“How could this have happened?”
Asuquo looked up from his laptop distractedly; the tone of anxiety in his wife’s voice had instantly snagged a part of his interest from his work.
“If you’re talking of Atan and Sara, that’s hardly shocking, I saw the possibility from the beginning,” he smiled, his eyes looking at his wife over his bifocals.
Affy shook her head impatiently, a move designed to disagree with her husband’s comment, “Not them, everybody knew about them. I meant Wofai and Ekong,” her anxiety was obvious.
Asuquo frowned, “What about them? I thought they were getting along well.”
“Too well, my love, too well,” Affy complained.
The king pressed some keys on his laptop, apparently to save whatever it was he had been working on and gave his wife his full attention by leaning back on the high back chair and pulling his glasses.
“Affy,” he called in loving reprimand, “You worry too much,” he said, opening his arms and expecting his wife to walk into them, she did. He spread his legs and prodded her until she reluctantly sat on his thigh.
“Ekong has always been too imperious for his own good, for that matter, he wouldn’t risk his princely duties which, I think, he takes too seriously. When Nkoyo had agreed to marry him, I’d become worried, both of them are too much alike in royal character to have any kind of love for themselves.”
“Which is why I am worried,” Affy pushed her point. “Wofai is the absolute opposite of Nkoyo. Our daughter is sure of herself and would never give Ekong the power to solve any issues for her, but Wofai, she would make Ekong feel more manly…”
“Your imagination is taking flight, my dear,” Asuquo chuckled.
“Why did he suddenly want to spend the weekend with us if not to be with her?”
“You have been worried about that from the onset,” her husband pointed out.
“Because it was too sudden and weird, since his fiancée wasn’t around. He must have already met Wofai…”
“When?” Asuquo asked with a preposterous expression.
“I don’t know,” she answered weakly because, honestly, it made no sense to her either, “But I know what’s going on doesn’t augur well, we don’t even know if Nkoyo has changed at all.”
“There’s nothing going on,” Asuquo assured, caressing her arm lovingly.
“The staffs are talking, my love. Ekong said he’d be here for just the weekend but this is the middle of the week. He spends all his time with Wofai, Sara tells me it’s really romantic, she being in love herself, she was able to recognize that vibe. He took her out to dinner today and they aren’t yet back…”
“I see what you mean, and it is cause for a bit of worry. But they definitely aren’t at dinner, darling, it isn’t yet four,” he joked, trying to get his wife to smile.
Affy groaned and stood up from her husband’s thigh, “You aren’t taking this seriously,” she complained. “Ekong went for his usual business, then he came back earlier than usual to take Wofai out, he has never done that with Nkoyo,” she pointed out.
“So, Ekong decides he likes our friend’s daughter, what’s the big deal? It’s not as though we particularly liked him as a suitable husband for Nkoyo, seeing as they didn’t have any of the sparks we have. We only respected her choice, if she had insisted she wanted to fall in love, we would have respected that too and actually be happy. Their marriage or lack thereof would not change our close relationship with the Ibibio kingdom…”
“It’s not about the diplomatic ties, Asuquo, it’s about our daughter. If truly he falls for Wofai and breaks up with Nkoyo, what do you think will happen? You do recall her attitude when we refused to take her to the royal meet; do you recall how Uyai was after you married me? It would be worse if her betrothed were to reject her,” Affy concluded and paced the length of their room.
Asuquo sighed, “I see your point…”
He was interrupted by a horn at the gate and Affy strolled to the window which faced the gate to look down. A strange car rolled in, she frowned, but was immediately shocked to see her daughter step out of the car.
“Oh God,” Affy moaned.
“What; who’s that?” he asked getting up to join her.
“Our daughter is back,” she announced without enthusiasm.
Despite the fact that he was king, Asuquo was ashamed to feel his heart quicken in dread. “Shouldn’t they have called us to expect her?” he griped worriedly as he followed his wife down the stairs to meet Nkoyo, “Is it even two months, yet?” he was also ashamed to admit, though to himself, that he’d been glad at his daughter’s absence.
“It’s more than a month, but they should have called us though. Now the situation has gotten complicated as per Wofai and Ekong.”
“Shit,” the king muttered. It was a very un-royal exclamation but it was the only way he could have expressed his dismay at that moment.
Affy totally agreed with her husband’s sentiments, shit it is, she thought as she frowned at the empty receiving room. She had expected that Nkoyo would have trailed into there as usual. She exchanged a shocked glance with Asuquo when their daughter pushed into the door dressed in a jeans trouser, t-shirt and sneakers.
Their daughter that they knew would never have been caught dead in that outfit.
“Darling,” Affy gasped, she was uncertain of the expression she should wear on her face, having in mind that they had tricked their daughter into her forced vacation.
Nkoyo saw her parents and the sadness in her eyes cleared a bit. She felt like running to them, but she didn’t think it would be a flattering sight for someone of her bulk to run like a kid. She moved fast though and was happy to be engulfed in her parents’ arms, their unconditional love threatened tears from her eyes.
“I missed you, mummy,” she tightened her arms about her mother and then turned and fully hugged her father, “You too, daddy.”
Asuquo choked, not knowing how to react; it had been eons since she’d called them such loving names. He had missed his little girl, the one he had expected but had not seen as an adult. His arms went round her, his eyes widening at his wife over their daughter’s shoulder; Affy shook her head in witlessness, she was as shocked as her husband.
“I missed you too, pumpkin,” he replied, calling her the pet name he’d used when she’d been little.
After the hug, they stood around uncertainly. Nkoyo tried to bury the unbearable pain of Onen’s rejection and wondered if she should tell her parents that she didn’t want to marry Ekong any longer; her emotions were still too raw, she wanted to be able to tell them without any water works.
Affy and Asuquo stood there, each guilty of tricking their daughter and wondering whether to inform her of her fiancé’s presence and the complication of Wofai. Affy made the decision, clearing her throat…
“We are sorry, darling, for tricking you that way…”
Nkoyo managed to push down the need to cry, not for the trickery but for what she’d lost, and grinned at her parents. “No need for that, mum, really,” her eyes included her dad, “I enjoyed it at some point, towards the end,” pain crossed her face as she recalled the end.
Affy saw the shadow that had crossed her daughter’s face and wondered what it was about.
Nkoyo sighed heavily, “There’s so much to tell, but I’m tired and would love to rest before dinner.”
“Of course, darling,” Asuquo answered, touching his daughter’s cheek lovingly, “Go rest, you need it.”
She nodded at her parents and hurried to the stairs to hide her tears. It took a few minutes after she’d been gone for Affy to recall that Wofai had been put in Nkoyo’s room.
She hadn’t noticed anything unusual about her room, probably because she had been in a hurry to give in to her urge to bawl. Nkoyo had ignored her luggage kept uncertainly and unpacked in the center of the room and fell on her bed, instantly letting go the tears she’d been holding from the whole drive home.
How would she ever over come this pain? How would she ever forget Onen? She was sure she’d die a spinster, she thought dramatically, and cried more because she had never been this crazy for a man before.
Ekong kept pushing off his departure date from the Efik palace. He realized something new about himself, he had a weakness. He had always assumed that he was a man that could never be affected by emotions of the heart, which was why he had appreciated his engagement to Nkoyo.
But after spending days with Wofai, he realized that his life had been empty the whole while. He could not imagine his life without her in it; he was aware that his actions were inappropriate and once in a while, he would feel a twinge of guilt, but he just couldn’t stop.
He had always been imperious and had refused to drive himself even though he was capable, but it was one of his royal idiosyncrasies that Nkoyo had supported and encouraged. They had seemed a perfect pair, each taking full advantage of their entitlement as prince and princess and acting in the most unacceptable manner; he was seeing that now by just being in Wofai’s presence.
The woman was simplicity itself and she didn’t make it look common. When he looked at her carrying out a task that he and Nkoyo would have regarded as menial and unfit for royalty, he was amazed that she did it with dignity which to Ekong made her appear more regal than Nkoyo in all her fineries.
His heart ached when he thought of leaving her to return home. His father had called severally and he couldn’t avoid it any longer, he was tempted to take her with him; he wanted to take her with him. Ekong turned right to look at her beautiful profile as she sat in the passenger seat of his car; her simplicity made him ashamed of all those times he’d lived arrogantly.
She humbled him and made him want to be real. In their long conversations, the rare times they’d been able to keep their lips separated, she had debunked all his theories of royalty and how he and Nkoyo had planned to rule in their time. It wasn’t because he couldn’t sleep without dreaming of her, but Wofai actually made a lot of sense and it made him realize that the aspiration he’d had with Nkoyo had been nothing but juvenile.
“Should I be worried?” Wofai asked with humor in her voice.
The tone of her voice melted his heart and he had to swallow hard to be able to speak, “About what?”
“You keep giving me minute glances, like I’m some phantom that might disappear soon,” Wofai joked and grinned at him.
He loved her simple dressing, he couldn’t remember the last time he had stepped out in jeans and a t-shirt, and he was glad that he had followed her suggestion; he felt a hundred pounds lighter for it. Ekong felt comfortable and since she’d given a condition that he leave his princely accessories at home before agreeing to go out with him, he found out, he was happy to just be one of the crowd; nobody recognized him as royalty and he was happy to laugh out loud freely without getting critical stares for not acting according to royal protocol in public.
Nkoyo had always wanted them to be noticed as royalty; it wasn’t her fault alone though, he had wanted the same things and he couldn’t for the life of him imagine why he had acted that way.
Ekong reached out and grabbed her hand, he laced his fingers with hers and lifted it to his lips without looking away from the road. “Marry me, Wofai, I can’t live without you,” he offered passionately.
Her breath caught and she tried not to gasp. She didn’t understand it, he had been proposing since the night they’d realized their feelings for each other, and every time he did, her reaction was the same. Wofai would develop breathlessness and a quickened heart beat and a stomach that had melted to mush.
And her reply was the same, “You’re still engaged, besides, I don’t want to rush into anything, I want us to be sure,” she said. But his continuous proposal was seriously wearing off her decision not to rush.
She still had concerns, Wofai couldn’t believe that this was real and could happen to her. Ekong was so handsome he took her breath away, that he wanted her desperately enough to break off his engagement and marry her was a novelty she was finding extremely difficult to accept.
“I am sure,” he assured passionately, his eyes expressing the truth of his words.
“I don’t know, Ekong, I see pit falls. There’s the king and queen to consider, especially the queen, what would she think of me?” Wofai could not stop worrying about that, the queen had been too good to her and she couldn’t stop seeing herself as repaying the dear woman with taking her daughter’s husband to be.
Would the monarch believe that it hadn’t happened for untoward reasons or from malicious intent?
“I will explain that it’s not your fault,” Ekong said determinedly.
“That’s hardly convincing,” she muttered unhappily. “There’s also Nkoyo and I’ve heard of how she is…”
“She might be a bit difficult but I’ll get through to her,” he assured.
“Then your parents, I believe this arrangement was for close ties of both kingdoms,” Wofai pointed out, hurting herself in the process, she couldn’t see how they’d ever be together.
His parents were the least of his problems, rather, Nkoyo’s parents were more of his concern, but he didn’t tell her that, he didn’t want her to worry too much.
“Let’s not spoil the perfect day with worry,” he said in a lighter tone and kissed her hand again.
Wofai nodded, readily agreeing, her heart had already turned heavy and cloudy with the obstacles in front of them. She could forget them for a few hours and complete an already amazing day with happy thoughts and beautiful memories.
“Yes, let’s not, I need a goodnight kiss though to erase the unpleasantness,” she teased.
Ekong’s eyes smoldered at her, “I would give you more if you’d let me,” he promised, his eyes sweeping down her body in a sensual survey.
Wofai’s breath quickened, and she had to look away to control herself, “Stop it. I’ve told you how I feel when you look at me like that.”
He grinned in obvious male satisfaction and let go of her hand to maneuver the car into the palace. He opened the door for her and preferred to use the back door into the palace; they avoided the front to avoid the monarchs and to get them quicker to their rooms. They were both conscious of the intense need to engage in some pretty X-rated kind of kissing, hence the urgency.
NKOYO DIDN’T KNOW HOW long she’d been crying and she was grateful that her mother hadn’t had the urge to check on her, because she wouldn’t have known how to explain her bawling.
She believed that in a day or two, she would be able to contain her intense sadness, but for now, she wanted to behave like a typical heroine in a tragedy. She wanted to mourn her loss and be weak as opposed to her usual strong character of taking things in spades.
A heavy thump at the door was the only warning she had before the door opened and let in a couple entirely entwined with each other, she had trouble recognizing their identities. Although, the trouble with identification might have had to do with her swollen eyes from all the heavy crying, but still, the passion of the couple reminded her of herself and Onen and how it had been between them.
It was still a thing of shock that he could have let her go like that, she thought with a small frown, temporarily forgetting the passionate couple until they both moaned loudly. Her eyes returned to them and this time, the lady had been lifted by the guy and she had her legs wrapped around his waist; Nkoyo wished she was slim enough to do that with Onen, then she felt like crying when she realized it would never happen.
She was getting used to her thoughts changing erratically, at the moment she thought that her old self would have been imperiously furious at the disrespect accorded her quarters, but she was glad to realize that she didn’t even care, although, she had to get their attention at some point.
Having watched them for a while, struggling with envy, feeling sorry for herself and wondering if she was now a voyeur, she decided to get their attention by clearing her throat.
It was comical the look on their shocked faces and she would have laughed if she could muster the urge, but then she recognized the guy.
“Ekong,” Nkoyo said in blatant shock.
“Nkoyo, oh God, when did you return?” he asked, trying valiantly to recover from his desire fogged session.
“You’re wearing jeans,” she commented, noticing how free and handsome he looked and trying to ignore the obvious bulge straining his fly.
Confusion appeared on his face for a moment, his arm still around his woman but he glanced down at his cloths, “Yes,” he stammered uncertainly, not understanding her reaction.
“Wow, you look good,” she admired and smiled, “I’m wearing jeans too,” she commented unnecessarily, pointing at hers and then suddenly bursting into tears; this one was for all the time she’d wasted with the wrong man and the terrible things they’d both done.
“Are you okay?” Ekong asked with blatant concern, he’d never seen Nkoyo this way and he felt awkward. She had always been strong and had never been one for hysterics; he had no idea what to do with her. Was it his appearance with Wofai that caused her tears?
Wofai felt like a horrid person at the sight of Nkoyo’s tears, guilt chewed at her and she felt uncomfortable in the room. “Talk to her,” she whispered in Ekong’s ear and went out.
Ekong cleared his throat as he neared her crumbled form on the bed, he sat by her and tentatively touched her shoulder.
“I’m sorry for my inappropriate behavior, Nkoyo, you should never have seen that,” he said honestly; truly, it wasn’t how he would have wanted her to know, he mentally cringed at the sight they must have made.
“Please, stop crying, I’m sorry,” he pleaded, Nkoyo crying was the strangest phenomenon to him that whole year and he wasn’t sure he’d get over the experience any time soon.
She heaved and tried to control her emotions, “It’s not…you,” she hiccupped.
Ekong frowned at what she was trying to say, what it implied gave him hope, “You aren’t angry?” he sounded surprised.
“No,” she replied, shaking her head to confirm her answer. “I’m just ha…happy for you,” she explained, her face was still covered on the bed. Truly, she was relieved that she wouldn’t have to be the bad guy when she broke their engagement.
“Happy for me?” that was unlikely, Ekong thought disbelievingly, Nkoyo was never happy for anyone, but she nodded in reply.
“How so?” he asked.
Nkoyo heard the disbelief in his tone and raised herself to a sitting position, her fair complexion had been mottled up from crying. Tears stained her whole face, her eyes and nose were swollen and she sniffed continuously and Ekong was shocked again to view his soon to be ex fiancée as human. He was shocked to see her face devoid of advanced make-up, something she’d never gone without before; her face looked fresh and youthful.
“Do you love her?” she asked in a nasal tone, a result of her crying.
A strange question coming from her but Ekong answered with a nod and the most sincere expression he could muster to convince her.
“Good…I’m in love too,” Nkoyo added when she’d seen the confusion on his face; she just wanted him to know that she understood what he was currently feeling. But then her face crumbled again as another bout of tears rained down, this time she didn’t cover her face, “He doesn’t love me enough to want me though,” she wailed.
Ekong watched in complete consternation as her face squished, tears poured down her smooth cheeks, a sight reminiscent of a child who’d been denied candy and her best toys. And all he’d got from her comment was the realization that the breaking of their engagement would be mutual. He had the insane urge to jump up and shake out in his native dance, but then years of protocol training in diplomatic reactions held him back.
Instead he pulled Nkoyo to himself and tried to comfort her, temporarily stamping on his elation. She had always filled his arm but now he appreciated Wofai’s shape where he could wrap his arm about her and lift her up even while making love to her mouth.
Shaking his head, he tried to concentrate on Nkoyo, if she was this broken, she apparently was truly in love with this phantom guy. Was the guy afraid of her strong character; the oppressing air of entitlement or the fact that she was an obvious princess? He had to admit that he’d only been able to endure her high-handed personality because he…they had been exactly the same.
“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked considerately and was surprised to see her nod. All he knew then was that it would be quite a long night.
INSIDE OUT continues
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