Nkoyo had been confident that in less than a month, she would leave the heart ache behind, return to her former regal self and do something momentous with her life. Well, she had done something momentous with her life but she had learnt that the heart didn’t always do what the head directed. She had made a mental plan of how her life would be but right now, it wasn’t exactly what she’d envisaged.
Granted, the pain had dulled but more often than not, it bloomed hotly when she experienced other couple being happy, like today. She had never in her former arrogance noticed that Atan and Sara the cook were in love. Apparently everybody knew and it was enough that her father had sponsored their wedding, with the reception holding at the palace’s ball room.
Apparently she had not succeeded in returning to her regal self, for if she had, she would never have enjoyed having the workers’ wedding reception at the palace, with all other workers moving around and conversing freely. She enjoyed watching the party from the side line while she observed the newly wedded couple.
The look in their eyes twisted her heart painfully because she knew she would never have what they currently shared.
After bawling on Ekong’s shoulder the first night she’d returned home, they, her ex fiancé and his new fiancée, had shared their own story of how they’d found love. It had been kind of funny when they’d discovered what their parents had planned and executed and she always smiled when she recalled Wofai abusing her brother of being all kinds of stupid for not wanting her.
The monarchs of the three kingdoms had had a good laugh with themselves, and she had been relieved that there wouldn’t be any untoward situation from the broken engagement. The Ibibio king, Ekong’s father, had been glad that he was getting closer relationship with Atam kingdom, something that had been lacking; his only regret was his lack of a second son to try for Nkoyo’s hand. She had shivered repulsively at the man’s comment, she was sure her system would never tolerate anything less than her experience with Onen.
Her parents were happy about the outcome and seemed extremely relieved, having confessed that Ekong hadn’t been right for her anyway. They shared their hope that this time, she would find a man which she would share the forever kind of love with as themselves were sharing; they still had no idea that she’d committed an emotional faux pas back at their friends’ kingdom…she had found such a man and lost him, or maybe she hadn’t really had him at all, she sighed wearily.
Thinking of the newly engaged couple, Nkoyo’s eyes traversed the gigantic and exquisitely decorated ball room and found them hurdled in a corner so engrossed in their own love filled world. Her heart quickened because Wofai’s parents were throwing a large engagement party for their daughter and her fiancé and she’d been specially invited.
She would have rejected the invitation if it had been addressed to the royal house of King Asuquo of Efik kingdom. No, she had gotten her own specially worded invitation and even though she was extremely busy these days with organizing Efik kingdom’s economic resources, she still had to go.
A heavy sigh escaped her and she managed to smile at some of the palace workers who seemed freer with her these days. Nkoyo understood fully what queen Jesam had meant by loyalty of workers. Everything changed when her attitude had changed, in fact, her recent close relationship with the workers helped her information gathering when it came to her new job.
King Asuquo had been shocked to find his only daughter in his study, going through some of the raw data he’d begun collecting concerning the vast and scattered economic resources of Efik kingdom. Nkoyo had smiled at the impressed look on her father’s face when she’d used her experience from the Atam mill to separate and catalogue all resources, making it easy to appoint trusted heads to manage them.
It was an on going job, a bit challenging compared to the what she’d done at the Atam mill but she liked it very much, at least, when she was engrossed in it, she was temporarily able to forget about Onen, and the lost hope of his ever getting in contact with her. Nkoyo had warned Wofai from telling her brother anything, she wanted him to come for her because he couldn’t be without her.
She wanted Onen to want her for all her good, if there was any and for all her bad, which he knew of. All through the past month, Nkoyo had come to realize that he might have left her because of the engagement but then she’d wondered why he hadn’t fought for her. He had made no effort to encourage her to break the engagement since he’d been ignorant of her original plan to break it off anyway.
Maybe he hadn’t really liked her as much as she’d liked him. She was coming to terms with this reality and everyday for the next couple of weeks before the engagement party at Atam kingdom, she was consciously creating a defense wall around her heart, strong enough to block out any remnant hurt that might occur when she saw Onen again.
Yes, king Liman and queen Jesam thought it impossible that one could suffocate from too much guilt, but it wasn’t. I was able to see my spirit colleague, Guilt, covering the king and queen with his special guilt cloak when they’d realized that they were responsible for their son’s unhappiness…invariably.
There was no way they could make everything better by confessing to pushing Nkoyo away from the kingdom, their son would hate them for their actions and it would have solved nothing. It had come as a shock when they’d heard of everything that had happened at the Efik kingdom.
Nkoyo’s former fiancé had fallen in love with Wofai and the engagement that had caused their drastic and shameful action had been broken. Of course, they were very happy about their daughter’s engagement and her changed character but then, they shared a palace with Onen, they saw his unhappiness and I have to tell you, Guilt was on twenty-four hour duty, the monarchs could barely breathe.
Having shared their shameful act with their counterpart at Efik kingdom, the monarchs had made another plan to bring the kids together again, but this time, they promised to stay out of it. They wanted them to find their own way, and if it ended in marriage, it would be good but if it didn’t, it would all be their decision; they were tired of the oppressive heat under Guilt’s cloak of guilt.
After sending a general invitation to the Efik palace, their friends had called to tell them that their daughter was making excuses that she might not be able to attend because of the sensitive work she was handling for the kingdom. They had then decided to send her a specially worded invitation, Jesam had had to hold herself back from adding that Onen was missing her terribly, but that would have been meddling, which was presently against the new rules.
Affy wasn’t sure her daughter would attend; she told Jesam that Nkoyo grumbled each time about her work whenever the party was mentioned. But she assured her friend that her daughter was of course, satisfactorily looking love sick enough to be missing Jesam’s son, all they had to do was get her to the party.
One would think that these monarchs have their hands full with matters of ruling a kingdom, enough not to meddle with other people’s lives, even if those other people were their children, but uh-uh, they were neck deep into meddling.
Leaving Nkoyo’s bed that night still ranked as the most difficult thing he’d ever had to do in his life. If she’d been awake, she would have been appalled at the struggle which he’d endured to make a decision…the right decision.
He had felt like, he assumed, a schizophrenic would feel, two extremes personalities fighting for dominance in one body. Onen had been so grateful that she had slept through it all; he had argued with himself, albeit mentally, but he had alternated with holding her luscious body close and letting it go.
At one point, his arms had tightened on her so hard that she had whimpered in her sleep, but then her hand had lifted and petted him, as though calming him down even in her sleep. It had been the most profound feeling in the world that she cared for him even while unconscious.
Touching her had been a mistake; the experience hadn’t turned out to be a cherished memory as he’d thought but an unforgiving torture of both mind and body. Apparently, the stupid right decision had won the day and he had left her side and had locked himself in his room to avoid running after her.
He had hoped, and wished that she would come after him, demanding to remain with him, then he would have had seized that excuse and chose the ‘wrong’ decision. But she hadn’t, how could she? He was very aware that she had made the first step, this time, the ball was in his court but he just couldn’t make a decision.
If there was any other thing that hurt this bad in his life, he wasn’t aware of it or it hadn’t happened yet. Onen was going crazy with thoughts of her, he had made another mistake in taking her night shirt, the scent of her that clung on the cloth was cruel and unusual punishment, but if he was burying his face in it every night, apparently he was a sucker for pain.
Sleep had offered no relief, not when his dreams were filled with her face, her laugh, the feel of her, it was as though his subconscious was stuck on that last night with her. He would dream of her pulling off her cloth and offering her naked, incredibly beautiful body to him as some sort of sacrifice. In the dream, he was always breathless as he explored the feast before him, her bountiful breasts, her curves, rounded hips, he got as far as making love quite intensely, feeling the wetness of her clutch him tightly like a glove but just at the point of fulfillment, he’d wake.
It was a terribly, frustrating way to live. He was slowly going mad with want. Onen had always woken up rested every morning and able to think clearly, he did his best reasoning in the morning. But, with dreams of Nkoyo clouding his sleep and most of his blood relocating from his brain to down south, so that he woke each morning with an unbearable erection, he basically just kept having miserable days.
The office wasn’t any easier, he couldn’t remain there because his eyes kept swerving to her table and his formerly dormant imagination seemed to have revived to full working order, he saw her sitting there. He saw her laughing with him and sharing lunch at his table and he would recall that she shared his emotions and he would be so frustrated he would join the physical labor at the mill just to get away from his thoughts.
Work piled up in the office not because he needed help doing it but because he couldn’t stand to remain in his office for more than an hour.
Onen was aware that he was wasting away. He forced down food these days for survival not from enjoyment, he couldn’t taste his meals; how could he when he yearned for hers, cooked with the thought of him in mind? Nothing could beat the feeling of his being the reason for her urge to cook; she had made him feel like a god, for a woman that had been entirely egoistic a while ago, they whole act was more appreciated…he should never have let her go, he’d realized a little too late and it angered him.
Everybody stayed away from him because of his impatience; his parents barely had anything to say to him, their gaze of concern was enough. When his sister had brought her fiancé to introduce to the parents, he had managed to clean up his act and had welcomed the guy, a prince too, with a genuine smile.
He was happy for his sister, she seemed tamed. And even though he had teased her as usual, she hadn’t taken the bait to scream as she used to, she had really over come her issues and Onen grudgingly accepted that his parents’ plan with their friends might have been right.
If not for anything, it had killed two birds with one stone for Wofai; she’d gotten her confidence back and a husband that loved her, and was way better than what she’d been ready to settle for in the kingdom. For the two days, Ekong had stayed at Atam kingdom, Onen had observed how the prince was with his sister, the guy was head over heels in love with her and he mirrored what he felt for Nkoyo and he felt shame for not having had the courage to keep her.
Having not heard from her or even heard any gossips from his parents or Wofai, he assumed that her engagement hadn’t been broken. And it pained him to picture her in another man’s arms; he wanted to be with her and experience the same happiness that his sister and fiancé were experiencing. He knew it was possible with Nkoyo; he had thought that he’d been in love with Trisha, but his feelings then paled to a point of being colorless as compared to what he felt for Nkoyo.
Even though he didn’t show much enthusiasm for the large engagement party planned in honor of Wofai and Ekong, he really was looking forward to it, he was sure Nkoyo would come and when she did, he would confront her and demand that she break her engagement because he couldn’t continue this way. Life had become bland without her and he wanted some damn color in it; if by some chance she didn’t attend, he was going to find her and make sure she understood what thoughts of her was doing to him…diplomatic ties be damned, she was his.
Ekong wouldn’t have cared if the decorations were awe inspiring or not, he was just very ecstatic to be there, a giant step to making Wofai his permanently; as the lady had recently become quite traditional in her attitude, he was impatient about his wedding night.
But then, as he’d taken time to admire said decorations for the party, decorations that had turned the massive garden of the Atam palace into a wonder land, he had also noticed and observed the man that Nkoyo had fallen in love with. He hadn’t meant to watch the guy that closely, but he regarded Nkoyo as a friend and he wanted to know if Onen shared his friend’s emotion.
It had been almost embarrassing to observe. Though Onen had tried, really valiantly to hide what he was feeling, Ekong as one that had experienced such feelings, even if for a short time, recognized it. Onen had issues being among people for a long time and if forced to, he mostly just zoned out of the conversation.
The pain did appear on his face sometimes in unguarded moments, that’s if one knew what to look for and he was quite glad to know that he loved his friend as much as she loved him. Ekong was happy and he wanted others to share that happiness, others like his former fiancée; he refused to admit that he felt a smidgen of guilt for his joy after breaking off the engagement while she suffered through a heart break.
He was suddenly tempted to call Nkoyo and scream at her for being foolish and not coming for the party. What was she really doing back at Efik kingdom? Even her parents were here and were having a fine time; it just didn’t settle right when his gaze caught Onen swallowing another glass of alcohol in a dark corner of the garden, the man looked staggeringly unhappy.
INSIDE OUT continues
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