Exhaling audibly, Richard bobbed his right leg in anxious agitation as he sat on the deck of the haulage ship and waited for the chopper that was supposed to have been there three hours ago, to pick and transport him back to Port Harcourt town.
Walking away from Stacey that night, one month, two weeks and a day ago had been the hardest thing he’d ever done in his life. At the time, he’d felt it was the right thing to do; her father had been very succinct on the matter.
But over the month, after struggling through the muck of self hate, self pity, anger at both Stacey and her dad and the whole family for having a strong sense of belonging, even at Wana for blending in, while he couldn’t…he’d finally realized that he’d been stupid to walk away.
And the last voicemail her father had sent, yesterday morning, had only confirmed that fact. He had listened to the recording repeatedly, just as he’d not stopped listening to Stacey’s own, in fact, he had made a folder for her voicemails, the ones she’d sent before her dad started sending his.
His favorite was still the one that announced that she was pregnant.
“I’m not calling to apologize again. I don’t even know if you’re getting this but *sigh* Stacey is suffering and I can’t help her, only you can, you are the best for her, Richard. But I’m also angry at you for not fighting for what you love. You’re a man Richard, a strong man, and I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished, but you have disappointed all the men in this family by running away instead of fighting and showing me, showing everybody that you’re worth her *sigh* Ebong and Cecil’s wedding is tomorrow, surely you wouldn’t miss…
Richard cut off the recording, that part wasn’t so important. He’d only wanted to beat himself on the head for not fighting for Stacey. Her father was right, he should have fought for her, when he’d seen her on New Year’s Eve, he’d been determined to do just that but he’d weakened and failed.
He knew the time for the wedding and had informed the Captain that he had an urgent family matter to handle. With his job done, the Italian only had to call for the chopper earlier than scheduled to meet them a mile or so out of Port Harcourt, in the open sea.
The ship had developed a mechanical fault and they’d been fortunate the journey hadn’t really begun. It had been easy to return the ship workers to town by chopper, pending when repairs were complete and bring in Richard and his team of engineers to work on the ship’s engine.
Richard had earned a month of leave after the Belgium training but after the kidnap and everything that had happened, he’d requested to be put on the job. He’d been fleeing from his demons, his past which had shaped his sense of inadequacy, but he’d not been able to escape them.
Not with Stacey pregnant with his kid. She was never far from his thoughts and he’d been too confused and hurt to reason straight.
But days, weeks, a month on the calm open sea, the vast awesomeness that was the sea, the incredibility of God and his creations and Richard got perspective.
The problem lay with him. The feeling of not belonging had always been his to discard but he’d tenaciously held on to it as his last line of defense at a world that could be harsh.
But that world could also be caring, he knew, the whole family had accepted him with no questions and treated him as though he’d always been theirs, as though he’d been born into it.
His determination to hold on to that last weapon of defense had destroyed his friendship with Stacey. He had readily believed that her choosing to go away to another university was because he’d meant nothing to her.
And he’d said the same thing to her in her room when they’d argued about his training and he died every time he recalled her hurt gasp.
Staring out at sea every night, he’d allowed himself to acknowledge that he’d been living defensively; it had always been Richard against the world.
Shame suffused him but he gritted his teeth and acknowledged that it was part of the reason he’d worked so hard, at some point it felt desperate. He’d wanted to make himself a worthy man for Stacey.
A man with his own house, his own car gotten from his own sweat; he’d wanted to stand on his own, a good thing but it’d been for the wrong reason.
Richard had wanted to be free from being handed things by the family; he’d wanted to stop feeling like a charity case. But, he’d been wrong. He should never have thought that way, he should never have despised the things he’d been lucky to be given.
No, not lucky, blessed to be given. None of the other boys from the orphanage made it, someone had died that day trying to escape the slavers, but he’d survived.
And staring at the awesomeness of God every night, he realized he’d been blessed the whole time, not cursed, or rejected as he’d felt all his life, but blessed and favored.
Walking away from Stacey might have been the hardest thing, but it seemed returning to her was even harder. Was he being punished for his stupidity?
Richard grunted impatiently, grabbed his bag to return to the Captain’s office and complain for the umpteenth time when he heard the choppy groan of the approaching chopper.
He grinned and remained on the spot. He might not make the wedding or the reception but he knew where to find Stacey and the whole family; and he knew what he had to do.
“I’m still glad my baby is a boy,” Morgan declared unapologetically and his friends groaned. Alero hooked his side with her elbow in a playful reprimand while he tenderly cuddled the baby in question.
After seeing how Daniel had reacted at his daughter’s pregnancy news, he really was glad he had only Ruth to contend with.
Morgan grinned at his wife, “You know anything you give me, I’ll take, right?” he murmured seductively to her and she became visibly flustered because they whole family watched the exchange.
“Jesus, Morgan, tone it down a bit, it’s too soon,” Slay joked and drank his beer, causing a ripple of chuckles.
“At least, give the little dude a year before the next guy shows up,” PJ added dryly.
Laughter and jokes and blatant gratitude to God were celebrated in Wana’s backyard, the unofficial gathering point of family meetings. Stacey wondered why she had called it an after wedding party when this was just a family sit around. It felt more like everyone not wanting the celebration to end.
Uncle Ebong and Cecil were obviously in love and even at their age, they couldn’t tone it down, though they tried. But Cecil still ended up giggling like a school girl when Uncle Ebong said something naughty for her ears only. They were like any happily married newly weds.
At that moment, they looked nothing like the seasoned DSS agents they both were; they laughed and joked with the family and kissed on intervals to the funny yells of the other couples.
After the excitement of the entire day, all the children had slept an hour ago and it wasn’t even eight pm yet. Even the very effervescent Tony had gone down willingly when his mother had bathe and ordered him to bed.
They’d returned from the reception hall at a quarter past five and seeing how almost doggone she looked; Wana had suggested she take a nap.
Stacey hadn’t realized how tired she’d been until she’d fallen on the bed still dressed in her wedding finery, with the aim to just take a break before undressing, but she’d been woken up by Debbie, more than an hour later.
Still tired despite the nap, she had settled on washing the extensive make up from her face. The make up artist that had done Cecil’s face had done all of them too. Stacey wasn’t used to that kind of make up but she’d loved how it had enhanced her face.
But at that moment, it felt like a hot blanket on her face, so washing it off made her feel better. She’d chosen a soft, baby blue, pleated gown from Wana’s boutique, the length stopping at her knee, it had made her look like an adorable toddler, especially with her natural hair specially styled by the hired hair dresser for the wedding.
Stacey loved the cloth so much and had wished that Richard had seen her in it. She sighed, now she still wore it because she’d been too lazy to change into casual cloths and the dress was comfortable anyway.
Without the children at that backyard, especially without Richard, her buddy, Stacey felt alone among the ‘adults’. They included her in the conversation, treated her as an adult and she laughed at their jokes but she still didn’t feel she belonged.
If Richard had been there, they probably would have sneaked away and done their own thing. The thought clogged her throat and tears threatened to drip from her eyes, but inhaled, looked up and focused on the on going conversation, and then she exhaled.
“So, how many kids are you people planning to have?” Wana asked impudently.
‘Wana!” Daniel and Debbie exclaimed in scandalized shock while every other person laughed.
“What?” Wana asked innocently.
“I’m with Wana on this one, it’s a fair question,” Slay concurred in mock severity and Eddy laughed.
“You sound so officious,” she declared, laughing again.
“Duh,” Slay said, effectively imitating Ruth’s favorite word, complete with the expression which cracked everybody up.
The teenager had gotten used to the phrase after watching some teenage high school movies which Morgan regretted ever permitting.
“Please,” PJ laughed, choking on his words, “Eddy, don’t let him do that again.”
“I concur. I think I’m still in shock,” Morgan muttered while bobbing the baby in his arm who had started fussing at the loud laughter.
“It really is a fair question,” Ebong said soberly even though he was wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.
He pulled Cecil even closer and Stacey had the impression that he would have wanted her on his laps if possible. He looked into her eyes solemnly, grinning when Slay said something funny, but then sobered up again.
“Of course, I’d like kids with you, but then, I’m not expecting it. If it comes, darling, then it’ll be added bonus to the real gift which is you.”
“Aww!” the women exclaimed all at once, with varying degrees of tender gazes.
“The old man still has moves,” PJ said in mock shock and everybody laughed, even Cecil had to chuckle while wiping tears of joy from her cheeks.
When she’d met Usen again after so many years of living in guilt for what she’d done to him and apparently he’d lived in hate of her, she’d never thought it would end this way.
If she didn’t have to work again as DSS Director of Security, she wouldn’t really care, all she needed for the rest of her life was sitting right there, beside her. And the family she’d never had, surrounded her.
She’d wanted to tell Usen right away about the pregnancy and then find out what his plans would be, but the lovely man had beat her to the punch by proposing the vey next day after ‘Fright Night’.
He’d been jolted by the kidnap and he’d expressed how fickle life was and how he’d waited all his life for her. Usen had declared he wasn’t waiting any longer. He’d shoved his signet ring onto her finger, since he’d not yet bought her one and declared she didn’t have any excuses and she didn’t dare refuse.
Cecil had taken one look at his anxious and uncertain face despite sounding authoritative and sobbed, grinning too and telling him that she wouldn’t dare refuse not when he was the king of her heart.
The family had erupted in cheers at the announcement later in the day. And God bless Wana, she had taken up all arrangements, despite the wedding being hurried, the women had come together and made it happen.
Now, as she sat there realizing how much she’d missed in her life for having walked away from this wonderful man years ago, she also realized that he loved her unconditionally, he didn’t care about having kids, just having her.
She’d planned to give him the gift on the first morning as husband and wife, but after that declaration, she couldn’t hold it in any longer; how she’d managed to hold it in this long was a surprise to her.
Turning to Usen, she noticed the family went quiet, sensing she had something important to say. She stared into his eyes too, his smile crinkling the corners of his eyes, she loved this man.
Clearing her throat, her heart hammered in excitement, not knowing how to begin, she leaned in and kissed him passionately, whistles came from the family, and then she whispered in his ear, “I’m pregnant.”
Ebong pulled back from her in shock, his eyes wide and his mouth dropped down in utter consternation.
“Uncle?” Slay called, seeming a tad worried at the older man’s look. The rest of the family mellowed and stared at the couple expectantly. It couldn’t have been something bad if Cecil was smiling widely, but Uncle Ebong looked like he would faint any minute in shock.
He swallowed thickly, “She’s…she’s pregnant?” he ended up announcing it like a question, like he couldn’t believe it and Cecil confirmed by nodding.
Stacey was sure Uncle Ebong was deaf to all the stud jokes made by the husbands; he had eyes only for his own wife. Congratulations floated until Wana asked, “How many months?”
They went quiet to hear the answer, “A few days more than two months,” she replied almost shyly, because, then, Uncle Ebong did what he’d probably been wanting to do since, he pulled his wife onto his laps and she rounded his neck with her arms.
Wana grinned evilly and turned to Eddy, “Pay up, woman,” she declared dramatically, shoving her palm out under Eddy’s nose who groaned and reached for her purse on a nearby table.
“You witch,” Eddy accused and slapped a five hundred naira note on Wana’s palm.
“It was nice doing business with you,” Wana grinned to the consternation of both women’s husbands.
“Sweetheart, you gamble?” Slay asked with a mock appalled expression and Eddy laughed.
“I’m sure Wana pushed her into it,” Morgan declared getting another elbow hook from his wife, “What?” he said to her, “She’s a bad influence,” he chuckled.
“Yes, well, I love all her bad influences,” Daniel said, grinning and pulling his wife to himself, “You have some bad sauce to give me tonight, babe?”
“So, bad you’d weep from it,” Wana replied with a lascivious smile.
PJ and Debbie choked on their laugh, “You guys are so…” but Debbie was interrupted when Richard walked into the backyard from the side of the house.
Silence ensued for a second, like everybody weren’t sure he wasn’t an apparition. Richard stood there awkwardly, with a wrapped gift in his hands, dressed in jeans and a light colored button down shirt that emphasized his dark complexion.
DUCT SEASON 4 continues
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