Through the Fire will be out on the 08/10/2022. Yay!
Here’s chapter one to whet your appetite.
Please leave your comments after reading.
The sweet aroma of food sizzling in hot oil wafted in the air, coaxing Oke awake. Taking in a deep breath, she opened her eyes.
Just as quickly, she squeezed them shut, tight as drums against the early morning sunshine streaking through billowing curtains. Still half asleep, Oke delighted in the gentle breeze floating through the open window and waking her fully. Finally, she hauled herself upright in bed and tentatively opened her eyes again, blinking a few times and letting her vision adjust to the daylight.
She darted her gaze to the clock on her bedside table and shook her head. Damn … 5:45 a.m. Greg was already up and at it, playing boyfriend when he should be on his way to Uni Lag for his nine o’clock lecture. The traffic would build up in the next few minutes, making it almost impossible for him to get there on time if he didn’t get moving.
She’d told him so many times that he needn’t hang around in the mornings. She preferred solitary, quiet mornings and really didn’t mind if he slipped out before she woke. Yet, the boy never listened. He was determined to prove a point to her. One that didn’t interest her—and never would.
No matter how many delicious breakfasts Greg conjured up for her, even if he served them to her in bed and proceeded to lick her toes afterwards, it wouldn’t get him what he wanted. Oke had no desire to be in a serious relationship with any man. Ever. No way would she end up like her mother, so desperate for a husband that she abandoned her children. No bloody way.
Inhaling and exhaling sharply, a shudder passed through her at the very idea of tying herself to any man forever. God forbid. Greg would just have to get the message through his thick ’fro. Their current arrangement had nothing to do with forever.
Oke sighed. Maybe it was time to start cutting the strings. Three months with one man was long enough. His growing attachment to her was starting to feel restrictive—suffocating even. Time to set herself free, starting with ending his sleepovers and his next-morning breakfast extravaganzas.
A shrill crow from her neighbour’s rooster pierced the air, breaking through her thoughts. Oke shook her head. How on earth had she managed to escape the trenches in Benin, determined to live in a place where she would never hear this sound again, only to end up living in one of the poshest areas in Lekki with a neighbour who owned a damn chicken as a pet?
Unbelievable! Rich people really had annoying habits.
When you grew up among the poorest of the poor—like Oke had in Benin City’s Ekosodin area—you didn’t kill chickens lightly, but kept them for eggs to feed the family all year. Living with her grandmother, poultry was reserved for special days. Like Christmas and Easter. And you certainly didn’t keep roosters around just for fun as pets either. It was absolutely unheard of.
The farm bird crowed again, this time with enough gusto to summon the dead back to life. Oke hissed and sprang to her feet. No point trying to go back to sleep. The rooster wouldn’t quit, and she needed to start her daily morning routine or risk being late to work herself.
After dashing into the adjacent bathroom and brushing her teeth, Oke slipped out of her night shirt and donned yoga pants and a tank top. She made her way down the curved stairway and strolled into the kitchen to find Greg exactly where she knew he would be—in front of the cooker.
He turned to her with a bright smile on his face. “’Morning, Babe,” he said with a wink. “Making your favourite—fried yams and eggs.”
Oke’s gut clenched. Babe …. he’d started calling her that a month ago. She should have taken it as a bad sign and put a quick end to this, but—
Her eyes swept over his toned frame, and her abdominal muscles contracted. Lord in heaven. Greg Okon was a pure work of art. Tall with smooth light-brown skin and muscular with a ripped abdomen that reminded her of the grooves on a tyre. Simply put, the man was a wet dream. And her greed for that sexy body had robbed her of all common sense.
Now, wearing just a pair of boxers that did very little to hide his impressive package, he looked even more delectable than he had the first time she’d noticed him working as a masseuse at Girls Ahoy, the women-only spa she often visited when she needed a relaxing evening.
As soon as she’d seen him, she had known that she wanted him in her bed. Although he’d been assigned to her friend Nkem, and she’d had to settle for the burly, overly eager man who had massaged her that evening, she’d vowed to get Greg’s attention. Lucky for her, it hadn’t taken much work.
A struggling medical student who had needed financial assistance, he’d readily accepted her generosity, and she’d automatically assumed the role of his sugar mummy. Such a shame that now, Greg seemed to be catching feelings.
Oke swallowed back a regretful sigh. Why did people always let emotions ruin a perfectly good thing?
“You should be on your way to Uni,” she said, taking a step towards the cooker. “You’ll be late for your lecture.”
“I thought you would drop me first before you head for work.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Well, I … I hoped you would.”
Oke let out that sigh she’d just stifled. “Greg …” she began, then drew in another breath and let it out. A rush of words about terminating their relationship clamoured to burst out of her mouth, but a quick glance at the frying pan on the cooker halted her train of thought. “It’s burning.”
“W-what?” He turned back to the cooker and gasped, switching it off and lifting the frying pan off. “Fuck. I wanted this to be perfect for you,” he mumbled as he tossed it into the sink and turned on the tap.
“Thank you, Greg,” Oke said, resting her hip against the kitchen counter. “But you don’t have to do all this. You don’t have to cook for me or make anything perfect for me.”
“I know that, Oke, alright,” he snapped. “I like … I do it because I want to. I wish you would be more appreciative.”
“I am … I just don’t want you to waste your time …”
“I love you, Oke. I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Damn, damn, damn! He’d just gone and done it—said the three words she dreaded hearing from any man.
Oke swallowed hard, fighting every impulse to glance at her smart watch. So much for her morning routine and being early for work today. She needed to address this now or risk having this turn into something ugly. Thankfully, she had no surgeries booked until past noon and her paperwork could wait.
She took a deep breath in and tried to gentle her voice as much as possible. “Greg—”
“I know what you’re going to say, but please, I don’t need you to love me back this instant,” he cut in. “I just want you to give us a chance, give me a chance.”
“What chance? We talked about this at the onset, I’m not looking for a relationship. I thought you understood.”
“But we’ve been together for three months … I thought we were getting somewhere.”
“No, Greg. We aren’t, we’ll never …”
“So what am I to you? Your sugar boy? Your gigolo?”
“Nooo, Greg.” She brushed her palms down her face and shook her head. “I thought we were just being casual, you know … isn’t that what we discussed?”
“If I ask you to stop paying my rent, will you consider just being my woman? I can go back to my side hustle if that’s what you want.”
“It’s not about the money, Greg. I pay your rent because I want to help. You’re a brilliant medical student who will someday become a great doctor and save many lives.” Oke rolled her thumb over her forefinger, trying to stem her anxiety. She had to say what needed to be said the right way so that she didn’t hurt his feelings. She really liked Greg and didn’t want this breakup to be as ugly as the ones she’d had in the past.
The last man who had fallen in love with her had threatened to gulp down a glass of snipper when she’d broken up with him. It had taken a lot of persuasion to talk him out of consuming the insecticide, and she’d even had to involve his family before he was able to break free of his obsession with her.
Why did men fall harder for her whenever they discovered her aversion to relationships? She never understood that. They always seemed to believe they could change her mind, make her want marriage and children. So bizarre.
Of course, Oke knew it had nothing to do with her looks. Sure, she was pretty enough—with facial features people often referred to as cute, and smooth brown skin more than one man had remarked was the colour of warm honey. But she wasn’t supermodel tall, and neither did she have the kind of massive tits and ass that men often lusted after. Her compact five-foot-five height had just enough curves to fit her petite frame.
Was her elusiveness the culprit? Did they simply want her more because she didn’t want them? Or was there some other inexplicable male reason?
“Greg, you’re only twenty-four. I’m eleven years older. Do you really think there’s a future for us?” Not waiting for his answer, she carried on, determined to drive home her point in the gentlest of ways. “You’re a wonderful man with a lot going for you. You don’t need to be stuck with a much older woman who isn’t keen on relationships.”
Leaning forward, she stretched her lips into what she hoped was a warm smile. “There’s a woman out there that would worship the ground you walk on. You deserve that.”
“Don’t give me that patronising bullshit, Oke,” he gritted. “You’re the woman I want.”
“Why …?” He dragged in a ragged breath before continuing. “You make my world fucking light up, that’s why. I don’t care about the age difference. I want to marry you. Have children with you—”
Children?! What the actual fuck? Oke’s insides curled up in a hard ball.
If there were a worse way to convince her to be with him, she certainly didn’t know what it would be. He knew she didn’t want kids. She’d told him several times that her sister’s kids were the only little ones she would ever need, or want, in this life.
She parted her lips to say just that, but shut it again when Greg dropped to his knees in front of her and pulled her to him, his face hopeful.
“Marry me, Oke,” he said, his eyes bright with determination. “I’ll spend the rest of my life making you happy.”
Speechless, Oke stared down at him—her arms hanging limply at her sides—still unable to believe how dramatic her morning had turned. Goodness. She would give anything to be back upstairs, listening to the neighbour’s rooster crow all the livelong day, rather than be in this kitchen right now.
“Just give us a chance, Babe. Please …”
The desperation in Greg’s voice struck such a chord that Oke’s throat choked up. She really liked him. Would being his wife be the end of the world? Maybe she could put aside her aversion to relationships and give them a decent go?
Her mother writhing on the floor and wailing as her husband walked out the door slamming it loudly behind him—the brutal images popped into her head. Oke closed her eyes and shook off the painful video replaying itself and the feelings it evoked.
No. Never. No way. No how.
“Greg, my answer is no,” she muttered, keeping her tone low and even, fighting against the onslaught of emotions squeezing her chest. “I don’t want to marry you or anyone else.”
“We don’t have to get married right away,” he said frantically. “We can just date for a few more months before—”
“No, Greg. Stop this now!”
Her tone came out clipped and abrupt, startling him into silence. Oke’s face warmed, embarrassed at her rudeness. Lord, she didn’t want to break this lovely young man’s spirit. But what else could she do? She took a step back, her eyes glued to his.
“Stand up, Greg. I won’t marry you, and I think we need to end things between us,” she said in a gentler tone. “It has nothing to do with you at all. Just me.”
Rising to his feet, he brushed his palms down his face in frustration. “I don’t want to lose you, Oke. Can we start again, forget everything I said this morning? Let’s go back to how we were before I opened my big mouth.”
Oke shook her head. “I’m sorry, Greg. But I’m not the one you’re looking for.”
He ground his jaw. “So, you used me,” he said through his teeth.
Oke couldn’t deny that. She’d used him, picked him out not only for his good looks, but also his age. Having had dramatic endings to her previous relationships, she’d vowed to steer clear of men above thirty who seemed to want to settle down. Who would have thought that a 24-year-old, with his whole future ahead of him, would be thinking about that, too?
“I’m sorry,” she muttered, truly repentant. “I should have made it clearer—”
“Oh, you did. You said it countless times. You’re not the marrying or girlfriend kind. I get it. I’m the fool who thought … who hoped to change your mind.”
“You’re not a fool, Greg—”
His humourless laugh cut her off. “Yes, I am. I’m a big fool.” He pointed to the kitchen table with a resigned look etched in his face. “Breakfast is ready for you.” A crooked smile curved his lips. “The batch of fried yams that didn’t burn, I mean.”
He waved his hand dismissively. “I’ll head out to Uni now.”
“Greg, please don’t be upset.”
“Save it, Oke.” He walked towards the kitchen door, and then, turned back just before he got there. “I’m done waiting for you, Oke. Done hoping for more. And it’s a shame, because I’m still young and can find another you quickly,” he said with a snarl touching his lips. Then, he lifted his shoulders in a half shrug and shot her a dismissive look with a shake of his head. “But you…? You’re thirty-five. A few more years and you’ll end up old and alone. Your loss, not mine.”
Oke remained silent, watching as he stalked out the room. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that from a man she was dumping.
You’ll end up old and alone.
If she had a nickel for every time she’d heard that, or a paraphrased version thereof, from an irate man, she would have a large belt made of the silvery metal.
Funny, but it didn’t bother her one bit. Being old and alone was exactly what she wanted. Anything was better than being old and unhappy with a man who controlled her every move.
Blowing out a sigh, Oke waited a few more minutes until she heard the front door closing. She would need to change the locks. Some time ago, Greg had found her keys and made himself a copy without her permission. Although it had irked her, she’d allowed it because her three-bedroom house, sitting at the end of a cul-de-sac, was a tranquil place for him to study.
But now, who knew about him or what he’d do? It wouldn’t be the first time a guy turned vindictive. She hoped not, for both their sakes. Better he moved on quickly, and she would help by crediting his account with enough money to last him through his final year of medical school. He deserved that at least.
Several minutes later, after a half-hour yoga session, Oke hopped into the shower, eager to wash away the emotional and physical stress of the morning.
As bursts of warm water pelted her body from the shower head above, she scrubbed her skin gently with a net sponge, moving it round in circles. The sponge slipped from her fingers, but she ignored it, determined to finish her wash quickly without it.
Her hand circled her left breast and moved to her right. Just as she dragged her palms to her under arm, she felt a hard lump at the outer corner of her breast. She halted, trailing her hand back and pressing it flat over the skin’s surface. Yes. It was a hard lump alright.
At that, her heart pounded like a jack hammer in her chest as she moved her flattened palm over the fleshy globe of her breast. No matter how many angles she rotated it, she could still feel the lump. Small, but firm, at the side of her right breast. And unmovable.
As a doctor with more than eight years of clinical experience, she knew this wasn’t anything to take lightly. She needed to see her family doctor as soon as possible and get it properly investigated. Cancer?
Oke’s stomach plummeted. God. Could her morning get any worse?