’Ha! Got ya.’ I giggled as Gozie tackled me to the ground and tickled me. With tears in my eyes from laughing I pleaded, ‘Please, please, you win’. He laughed, lifted me and twirled around in circles, then let me stand on my feet. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I ran into the house and shut the door. I could hear him laughing through the door. It made me smile.

Memories, that’s all they are now. Gozie is my big brother. Our parents passed away when I was five and Gozie was ten. Our parents only had the both of us, so we were quite close. We moved in with our uncle and his wife who raised us. I remember I used to stare out the of the large living room window and wish I was a bird, I would fly away and not look back, to forget our parents ever died. Gozie used to try to get my mind away from such morose thoughts and he would make fun of me calling me ‘baby bird’. I didn’t like the name but that didn’t stop him, so the name just stuck. I wish we were stiill as close as we used to be. It is my fault we are the way we are now. He called so many times, but I never answered or returned the calls. I wish I could turn back the hand of time. I wish I had listened, and not done what I did. I wish I had never eloped with Chiemela. I wish.

Chiemela was funny and very charming and that drew me to him. He proposed a month after we met and I was elated; I believed we were a great match. Gozie has always been wary of men who showed interest in me. He would always ask me ‘Do you trust him?’ You see, our parents were very wealthy and had left us a lot. Gozie wanted to ensure that whoever I was serious about loved me for me and not my money, so he advised that I told no one about my nest egg until after marriage. But, I told Chiemela, and he proposed 2 weeks later, a week after our graduation from university. Gozie advised I give it more time, before jumping into marriage, he felt it was too soon. He was even more worried when I told him that Chiemela knew I was rich. But I said no and couldn’t wait, I was in love and I was angry with my brother for trying to take away my happiness. When Chiemela suggested that we elope to another state and get married I did not hesitate. That night, I left Gozie a note which read ‘Do not worry about me, I’ll be fine. Tell uncle and aunt too’ at his apartment. I never saw my brother again.

The nurse walked in to check on me. ’Are you comfortable?’ she asked, ‘I’m fine’ I said, ‘Just feeling a bit cold’. She pulled the blanket to cover my arm and chest. ‘Any better?’, I smiled weakly, ‘Yes, thank you’. She left quietly and I followed her with my gaze, and through the window beside the door I could see the next room. In there lay a woman, with a man standing beside her and holding her hand. From the way he smiled down at her and she smiled back, I thought to myself that he is most likely her husband. The sight warmed my heart, for that was a man who loved his wife. I wished so desperately that she was me and her husband was Chiemela. Suddenly, the happiness I felt in seeing that couple turned to sadness, then anger. How could I have been so stupid?

Everything was beautiful. Our honeymoon was at a private beach resort; lots of afternoon spent lying lazily on the beach and watching the waves. Afterwards we settled in a small town. Chiemela wanted us to live in the city but I wanted a quiet life, for us and our future kids (such wishful thinking). We didn’t have jobs yet but he suggested we take our time because we had the wealth from my inheritance. Chiemela hid the fact that he was a drug addict away from me, which I found out two months into our marriage. Drugs and cars was what he spent our money on. I don’t know which is worse, the fact that we are almost bankrupt or the fact that Chiemela borrowed money from one of his dealers to payoff a car loan and now we can’t pay back. I mean, who borrows money from such people. He became abusive and spent less time at home. Whenever he is drunk, which is almost all the time, he blames me for our problems. He’ll ask me why I didn’t have more inheritance and why didn’t I have a job. Can you believe this guy? The beating I had received from him a day ago was what landed me in the hospital, but this is not the first time. I always lie to the doctors about how I got hurt. I want to leave him but I’m afraid that he would find me, besides I had no where to go. As I stepped out of the hospital the following day my phone rang, caller ID, unknown. I had lost most of my contacts when I switched phones, so this could be someone I know or didn’t know. In the past I would never have picked because of the fear that it may be one of Chiemela’s drug dealers, but these days, I’ve stopped caring. I pressed the answer button, ‘Hello, who is this?’. ‘Hey baby bird’ came the voice from the other end and I froze.

———

For six months after Tobechi eloped with Chiemela I called her day and night. She never picked my calls, not once. I started hearing stories of how lavishly they were living and Chiemela being involved with drugs. This had me very worried, so I hired a private detective to find out what was really going on. The report I got was disturbing. Tobechi and Chiemela were without jobs, Tobechi’s inheritance was what sustained their lifestyle and right now they were close to bankruptcy. To make matters worse, Chiemela had borrowed money from one his dealers and they did not have enough to pay back. She is in big trouble and I need to help her. It’s been a year and half since I called Tobechi and I wasn’t sure she’ll pick but I just had to try again. Oh God, help me get to her on time.

I couldn’t believe my ears. No one else called me that, it had to be him. ‘Gozie?’ ‘Yes, it’s me. It’s been a long time Tobechi. Please can we meet?’ I almost said yes, but I stopped myself. I cannot let Gozie see me this way, he’ll be disappointed, I can’t drag him into this mess, it’s best he stayed away from my life. With tears in my eyes I said slowly ‘We can’t, please don’t call back’. I turned off my phone and took a bus home. Outside my door was a box, same as the ones I’ve seen twice this week, and they both had contained life-threatening messages. My life might end like the dead rat in the box.

A knock on the door startled me out of my thoughts. I have been pacing in the living room trying to come up with a plan to save my life. Another knock and I walked to the door. ‘Who’s there?’, a familiar voice answered, ‘It’s Gozie, please open up.’ I only knew one Gozie and it was impossible for him to be standing outside my door. I opened and he walked quickly past me carrying a bag with him and started speaking really fast. ‘Tobechi the dealer is coming after you today. Do not ask how I know I’ll explain later, but right now you have to take this’ he pushed the bag he carried towards me ‘and get to him first before he gets to you. In it contains the amount you owe him and a little more’. I just stared at him completely shocked. ‘I can’t take this’ I managed to say, ‘How did you get so much money anyway?’ then it dawned on me, ‘Is that your inheritance?’ He looked at me, ‘Yes. But your life is more important. Now let’s go, we do not have much time’. He picked the bag, took my hand and ran for the door, and I tried my best to keep up. ‘We’ll ride behind my detective, he knows where he stays. Let’s get this over with’.

Two hours later, we rode to my house in silence. I was able to pay Chiemela’s debt with Gozie’s money. But I still couldn’t believe it. Did he just give me all that money? Is he really here? We pulled up to my house and I saw Chiemela’s car packed outside, that means he is home. I and Gozie has agreed to have dinner tonight to talk things over. I got down from the car, waved, and went into my house. My head turned sideways as a blow landed on my cheek. I screamed and staggered, shocked and confused. ‘You lied to me! You said we had no more money but I just found out you paid the dealer his money! How did you get the money, huh!’ All I could smell was alcohol; he was drunk and he held a gun in his left hand. ‘Before I end your life, you’ll tell me where the rest of the money is.’ I started crying, there was no point trying to reason with him, so I closed my eyes and waited for the worse. Baam! The gun went off.

I didn’t feel anything, I thought a gun shot was supposed to hurt. I slowly opened my eyes but I wasn’t the one bleeding. Gozie laid on the floor with a hand over his wound but it didn’t stop the bleeding. When did he come in? Chiemela stood where he was stammering ‘He – he j-j-just jumped in’. I crawled to where he lay, held him and I cried out, ‘What have you done to my brother! Just then, he blinked and open his eyes weakly. ‘Hey baby bird’ he managed to crack a smile, ’Told you I’ll always look out for you. I made a promise to dad to protect you no matter the cost’. I stared with unbelief, ‘How could promise such a thing?’. He looked at me and smiled ‘Because I love you. I’m glad I stepped in at just the right time’, and with that his eyes closed.

I walked leaving footprints behind me on the sand as I remembered how crazy my life was a year ago. I moved in with my uncle and his wife at their beach house and they were more than glad to have me back. ‘Tobechi!’, I turned and saw Gozie waving at me. ‘Aunty asked me to call you in, dinner is ready’. Gozie had survived the gunshot, and would be getting married soon. He came visiting today with his fiancé. I smiled and ran towards the one whose love had saved me, and now, I can start all over.

Ifeoma Nkemdilim is a lover of art, architecture and all things creative. She holds a B.Sc in Estate Management from the University of Lagos and is also a certified events designer. When she is not busy making events spaces beautiful, she is outdoor taking photographs or creating wall art from recycled materials.

Every month, she publishes posts across her social media platforms, where she writes about the message of salvation by grace through photography, themed ‘Flood The Kingdom’, with the aim to reach the world. She is a huge fan of Hillsong’s music. Casting Crowns, For King and Country, Tenth Avenue North and Lecrae are other artists whose music she enjoys. The Mark of the Lion series and Redeeming Love by the Christian writer Francine Rivers are her favorite books. ‘Bloody Love’ is her first short story.

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