I knew it wasn't a dream because the emotions were too intense.
Ken stood before me, as young and attractive as I'd last seen him five years ago.
Closing my wide-open mouth, I looked away. But I could feel his eyes on me.
"Jessica," Ken said, coming closer.I picked up the jerrican that had dropped from my hand, walked down the stairs backward, and ran into my apartment on the first floor.
"Life is unfair." I fell on the couch.
"Why would Kenneth move into the same building with me? A day after I'd been in my pastor's office to complain about my prolonged singleness, why this torment?
How would I react to Ken's wife, a woman I'd never met, but…
"I'm leaving Bonaberi."
The child's cries irritated not only me; I could swear that my immediate neighbor's woofer's top volume intended to drown out the rainy voice from the upper floor.
"What woman allows a baby to cry like that?"
I smiled. That irresponsible woman served Ken right. "When a man dumps a woman, he usually replaces her with a worse one."
The thoughts convinced me not to leave Bonaberi again. I would stay and watch Kenneth suffer in the hands of that woman.
The next morning, I woke up earlier to leave the house without meeting them. I hurried into my clothes, grabbed my handbag where I'd left it last night on the couch, and yanked the door open.
Then lightning struck my heart. Ken stood at the gate, one hand on a picket, the other fastened around a dispensary bag, and his eyes on me.
As he approached, my heart jumped inside my chest."Good morning," Ken said.
My tongue froze.
Ken looked around before bringing his eyes back to me. "I didn't know you live here."
I said nothing.
He cleared his throat. "Jessica, I later regretted the way I'd ended our relationship. But I wanted only the best for you."
"Liar. You were weak."
"Weak? After three years of trying to convince your sister that I loved you?"
My eyes moistened. I ran passed Ken and crashed the fence behind me.
I paced the boutique that day, confusing my clients and friends. Should I hate or extend mercy to Ken?
I hated my elder sister, the one who had been my mother and father for the past fifteen years. Her great dislike for Ken had robbed me of the only man I'd loved like crazy.
I should have challenged my sister, but I was only twenty-two back then, naïve and timid.
"But the truth remains, Ken, you were weak."
My head ached terribly that night and that child's cries multiplied my sorrow. Enough was enough. I went up to the next floor and pounded on the door.
"Open," a voice said from inside.
I opened, slowly, and sent my head in.
Ken held a feeding bottle in one hand and an inconsolable months-old baby on the other."Come in."
I came in. "Can't you guys calm your child? Remember, you have neighbors. If the child is sick, take it to the hospital."
Ken motioned me to a seat opposite him.
"Where's your wife," I asked, sitting down. For some unknown reason, I suspected there was no wife.
"She died two months ago."
I put the puzzle together, but the picture still looked incomplete. "Why are you the one taking care of the baby? What about your sisters… or…your wife's sisters?"
"It's a long story." Ken hung his head over the baby, and a tear dropped on its forehead.
I took the baby. Placing its belly against my laps, the way I'd seen my mother do, I caressed its back.
Like magic, the baby quieted and granted me the opportunity to assess its features. She was a lovely girl, the father's carbon print.
For the next one and quarter hours, I listened to Ken's tearful story, pretending more than once to weep.
"Can you forgive me?" Ken said. "I want us back together. If your sister stands on our way, I won't back out again."
My nearness to age thirty had sand-papered my dictatorial sister's heart, but I wasn't ready to fill the vacancy created by Ken's wife's death. Especially when an attractive child had created an everlasting bond between them. Not now. And never.
I believed that fate crossed our paths to teach Ken the consequences of hasty decisions.
Without replying to his request, I left, the baby lying against my shoulder, for she wouldn't stay quiet with the father.
In my room, the little angel interrupted my confused thinking with adorable smiles each time our eyes met. I would pat her cheek, and she would giggle in reply, wooing my heart.
Did I look like her late mother? Or, probably, I behaved like her?
Like a thief in the night, each dose of warm feelings stole away my bitterness against Ken. I dreamed about us living together. How could I reject the baby's invitation now? How?
"God, is this your answer to my prayer?"
Before I closed my eyes that night, the baby lay sound asleep on my chest, with Ken's invisible arms wrapped around us.
The future I'd once yearned for had come looking for me.
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