Chapter 1. Homecoming
“You do not have to go,” Cordelia had snapped. At the end, she was always snapping at everything. She frightened a few doctors, most of the nurses, and all of the lawyers. I was the only one who understood that snapping was her way of covering up how weak her voice had become.
We had that in common.
“I mean it. If you ever change your mind, you speak to that fat buffoon of a solicitor, Mr. Harrison. He knows his job, as well he should for the insane amount that I pay him. He’ll write up the papers to make sure that Kojo never gets within ten yards of you.”
“I want to go,” I told her firmly. “I’ve never been to Nigeria…” I corrected myself. “I don’t remember being in Nigeria. And I want to meet him. Who knows? Maybe my memory will eventually come back?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t hold your breath, my dear.” But I saw the wistfulness in her eyes.
She hadn’t been to Nigeria either, since the accident. The crash that had taken her friend’s life had taken my memory, right down to my name. Both our lives had been changed irreparably after it. Cordelia Annan had gone from being the Dragon Lady of the West African entertainment industry to a reclusive philanthropist that hadn’t stepped out of this country in nearly twenty years.
Sometimes I found it hard to believe that that woman had ever existed.
“There are some things I need to tell you.” The bite had gone out of her voice. It was softer now, tentative. “Before you go…”
“There’s time,” I said quickly. I picked up my bag, tucked in my cellphone.
“No, there isn’t,” she retorted. “Listen…”
I was already on my feet. “I’ve got to go. It’s way past visiting hours and Lulu promised me a ride.”
“No, wait! Come back here right now!”
I turned around so quickly I nearly tripped over my own feet. I couldn’t help it. I had never heard her use that tone of voice before, not even on her snappiest, grouchiest days.
I looked at her and for a moment, I didn’t see a dying woman in a hospital bed. I saw a vibrant, powerful woman behind a board desk, who only needed to raise an eyebrow to make grown men tremble. Whose sharp voice could call a boisterous mob to order.
“Wait. Please.” Her voice broke on the last word.
And the image shattered. The woman that was asking me to stay was just an ordinary woman, who wanted to say goodbye.
I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. So I laughed. “There’ll be plenty of time to talk but right now, I have a job I’m running late for.”
I was still laughing when I walked down the hospital corridor that seemed to grow longer and longer with every visit. I laughed because I think I would have liked the bitchy, ambitious Cordelia that I don’t remember as much as I loved the warm, compassionate philanthropist that had made me her whole world.
I laughed as I walked out of the building and found my way to the parking lot where Lulu was waiting. I laughed, even though summer was ending and I had spent most of it indoors, inside a hospital. Even though the doctors had said that the cancer was too advanced, why hadn’t Cordelia come earlier, and did she prefer to die at home or in the hospital?
And even though the tears were already pouring in earnest then, I was still laughing.
I went to visit her the next day and I found an empty bed. She had died during the night.
She was staying with friends and her ticket to Nigeria was tucked between the leaves of her passport, buried at the bottom of her suitcase when she got the first phone call from Cordelia’s estranged brother.
Kojo Annan insisted on flying into the country to escort her back to Nigeria. It hadn’t made any sense at the time. Cordelia’s death was long overdue and everything was planned for. The funeral was brief and her ashes were spread over the Hollywood sign, just as she had asked. The lawyers had her financial affairs well in hand and everyone was accounted for in her will. There was no unfinished business for an estranged relative to tidy up.
But he insisted. And a month after Cordelia’s death, he arrived.
The first time she saw him – that she could remember – was at the airport. The tall man was strolling down the corridor, his eyes glancing around the waiting area, and then he spotted her and he just… froze. The next moment, he was striding – all but running towards her, shouting.
“It’s you! It’s really you!”
If she hadn’t already known him from pictures, she might have made a run for it, maybe even called for help from airport security. As it was, she did recognize him and she stood there, uncertainly, one hand outstretched to shake his own.
The hug he enveloped her in lifted her clear off the ground and literally stifled her breath.
“I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” He was still shouting.
She couldn’t breathe to tell him to drop her. But she got her intention across with a quick sharp stab with her foot.
“Ow!” To his credit, he didn’t drop her on the floor, just shifted back enough to stare at his shin, then at her in shock. “What?”
“Sorry,” she said. “I don’t like being touched by strangers.”
His eyes softened. “I’m not a stranger. Didn’t Cordelia say…? I mean, in your emails, on the phone, you said she told you everything?”
She shrugged. “I know who Cordelia says… said…” She swallowed, then she started at the look on his face. She had been expecting pain… sadness… What she saw was unmistakable anger. “But to me, you’re just a stranger,” she said neutrally, watching him closely.
He was visibly struggling to compose himself. He turned away slightly, his face working, his fists clenching at his side. When turned back to her, his face was a mask of composure.
“You’re right, of course, and I’m sorry. I must have completely shocked you, running like a madman, embracing you like that.” He smiled.
It was a smooth, charming smile. None of Cordelia’s pictures had showed him smiling. His expression had always been… intense. The smile was a shock. And it was with that shock that she realized that Kojo Annan was an extremely handsome man.
And that there were only two people she knew that could pull off a fake smile so perfectly. One of them was dead.
“Allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Kojo Annan.” He offered her his hand.
She took it. Noted his surprise at her firm handshake. “Tokunbo Annan, pleased to meet you… again.”