BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Copyright © Ufuomaee
The eBook is available to Patrons via books.ufuomaee.org.
“Go! Go! If you don’t want to be here, just go! I’ll come home when my father’s well!” Erhuvwun insisted, not knowing how she got the courage to be so bold. She just knew she wasn’t about to forsake her father now, and she couldn’t stand to hear Amadi’s non-stop negativity.
People watched on with curiosity to see how he would respond. He was certainly fuming like a child about to throw a tantrum for not getting his way. Surely, if she followed him home in this state, there’d be trouble waiting for her there. But Erhuvwun didn’t tremble. She stared Amadi down defiantly and was encouraged when some of the men and women in the village came near to stand by her. Amadi would have to deal with them all, if he wanted her to follow him against her will.
Amadi, angered and embarrassed, ground his teeth and left in a huff. Erhuvwun released her tears when he was gone, and one of the women gave her her shoulder to cry on. Why did Amadi have to be so hard and controlling? Didn’t he have a heart, even for her father?!
“Thank you, Mama Toju,” Erhuvwun said to the older woman, as she left her embrace.
“It is well, my child…” she replied and gave Erhuvwun’s hand one last comforting squeeze, before releasing her. These men and their tempers. They were just overgrown babies. Amadi’s case was even special. How was Erhuvwun coping with him all by herself in that place, she wondered, taking another look at the young girl, before shaking her head sorrowfully.
Erhuvwun returned to her father’s small hut to check on him. He was sitting up on his mat. She went to him.
“Father, how are you feeling this morning…?”
“Better to have you near…” he said, with a small smile. He reached for her hand. “Erhuvwun, that man is no good for you. I’m so sorry I let you marry him.”
Erhuvwun wiped her tears. “He’s not that bad, father. He just has some…personal issues…”
“Will you stop making excuses for that man? Look, Akpos is here, and he still wants to marry you…”
“What?!” Erhuvwun looked alarmed and withdrew her hand from her father’s. “What are you saying father?”
“I’m saying that you’re still young and have your whole life ahead of you… I can’t die knowing I left you in the care of that man. Forgive me for what I did… Take your chance and go with Akpos to the city. He’s…”
“Father, you know I cannot do that!”
“Look, Erhuvwun,” Onuoha said, bringing out a small bag containing five thousand naira in notes from his wrapper. “Akpos gave this to me. He has a good place in the city, and a business as an Estate Agent! He has done so well for himself. And he came all the way back for you…”
Erhuvwun stood up then, stepping away from her father. “Did he put you up to this?!”
Her father’s guilty face revealed the truth, and Erhuvwun threw her hand to her mouth. She’d been tricked! Had Amadi known this…on some level? But how could he have? Onuoha’s sickness was believable.
“Father, are you really sick? What is wrong with you?”
“Princess, I am sick. But not that sick. We just thought before I get too sick to beg you, maybe we could get you to come home and you can marry Akpos…like you’ve always wanted to.”
Erhuvwun ran her hand through her braids. “I can’t believe this… Father, you know this is not right. Amadi is hard to live with, but… But… He’s my husband.”
“Do you love him?” The sound came from the entrance of the hut. Erhuvwun turned to find Akpos standing there. He looked as good as she’d remembered, and seeing him again, her words escaped her. She swallowed. “You told me that you do not love him… And after the spectacle he made today, I can see why. That man is a monster… You deserve better, Erhuvwun. You deserve me.”
Erhuvwun looked between her father and her former love and struggled to understand her feelings. This was her out. But it felt so wrong. Also, she couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that if she agreed and went with Akpos, she’d never see Amadi again… That’s if he didn’t come after her.
“Excuse me!” she said, as she pushed past Akpos and ran. She needed to be alone to think. To really think about what she wanted. It seemed no one cared, and she couldn’t depend on anyone to make this decision for her.
Akpos found Erhuvwun sitting on a stone by the well, just as the sun was going down. This was Erhuvwun’s favourite place to think, and Akpos knew he’d find her here, when she hadn’t returned home since morning. He bent down and picked up a pebble and threw it past her, so she turned and saw him coming.
“Hi,” he said, leaning against the well.
“Hi,” she breathed.
“I’m leaving at first light tomorrow. Won’t you come with me?”
Erhuvwun took a deep breath and looked up at him. “Would you really want a married woman? Who ran away from her husband?”
Akpos shook his head. “Erhuvwun, you can’t turn me off you. I know this was not a marriage you entered willingly… I know how unhappy you’ve been. And I know how much I love you.”
Erhuvwun swallowed. She wanted to correct him about the state of her happiness, but with the way Amadi had acted yesterday and this morning, she didn’t really know if she’d dreamt of the times he’d been gentle and loving towards her. “I’m used…”
“And it’s my fault…”
“What kept you away?” she asked, looking up at him curiously.
“I wanted to have more to offer you. I didn’t want you to stress when you finally come to the city. I was just sorting out everything, and it took longer than I expected. But I’m ready now…”
“Oh, Akpos… I don’t know. What sort of woman would I be?” What if I’m unhappy with you and want to run away too, she thought but couldn’t voice. She just sighed.
Akpos went to her and knelt before her. “The kind who follows her heart… The one I fell in love with,” he said, looking into her eyes. And it was in that moment that Erhuvwun knew what she had to do; she had to follow her heart.
Akpos leaned into her and kissed her lips again, expecting Erhuvwun to return his passionate kiss. But instead, she withdrew from him. She arose from the stone, her heart racing with excitement.
“I have to see my father before I leave…”
To be continued...
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