I believe we are not quite awake even if our eyes are wide open. Until you do that which makes you feel alive and worthwhile do yo really feel awake. Sometimes you
e awake but only for a little time. Lying inside that trunk, I pictured the life Ive lived so far and truly, I felt like everything was happening all at once.

It felt like a dream and I wished someone would wake me up. Sadness overwhelmed me and I couldn find warmth anywhere. Some others have been forced to a choice they didn like but mine was different. I lured myself to that choice and now Im trapped in it. I felt myself slipping away, my limbs felt weak, I couldn move. The hostel started looking like such a wonderful place, at least I was going to have some familiar faces around me while I breathed my last. Instead I lay in a dark trunk of an unknown man with inanimate materials as my friends. I tried to make light of it, but my hollow laughter could barely conceal the pain. I drifted slowly into the darkness but got pulled away by a bright light and I saw a beautiful woman smiling down at me.

”Oh my goodness! That was my mother ”, I felt a shiver of excitement run through my brain.

I remembered. I remembered my mother. She was so beautiful.

”Gigi baby come on. Wake up sweetie. You can have your beauty sleep later on ” she had said dragging me up.

The dragging felt stronger and not soft like my mothers. It was giving me a headache and then I felt cold water choking me. Struggling to breathe, I woke up breathing heavily.

Where am I? Where was my mother?

”Now slow your breathing, take it slow. Breath in and slowly breath out. Take that pattern ” a stranger who was beside me kept motioning.

I obeyed and in no time, my breathing returned to normal. I started taking in the environment slowly. This was no trunk of an suv nor the hostel nor a cell. This place felt more comfortable and warm and somehow yet strangely made me feel safe. For the first time I really looked at him and his handsome eyes stared back with a smile on his perfect face. I tried speaking but my voice failed me by coming out in a whisper as I asked.

”Who are you? Why are you helping me? ”

He look startled by the question.

”I just found you while I was clearing out the senators trunk. At first I wanted to report about finding you in his trunk but the way you kept saying ”Mum ” moved me and I decided to help you. So you should really explain yourself here ”, he said while adjusting himself and sitting down in a chair by the corner.

”Did you say my mother, did you see her? ”, I said tears welling up in my eyes.

”No, I said you were saying her name ” his voice softened with concern, ”Are you okay? ”

”Oh why did I wake up? She is the only memory Ive remembered in a long time now. I have no idea what anyone else in my life before looked like, I don even remember who I am ” the chest pain came back as I massaged my chest crying.

”Please don cry ” he said drawing closer to me.

”What did you mean by your previous life? ”, he inquired after I quieted down.

I explained my life to him and how I woke up to an unknown place and the misery that followed. The pain of losing the only friend I could call family and how I ended up in the senators trunk. My story saddened him as his face turned pale, I could tell from his reaction that he was not just hurting from my story but because he must have shared in a similar fate himself.

”Im sorry for everything you passed through, Ive had my own share of a sad fate but this isn about me. I believe I found you in that trunk for a reason. Weve both had our rough phase and in that we share a bond. ”

”Im sorry for whatever you passed through too ”, I said softly.

”Its fine. I will introduce you tomorrow to the senator as my cousin who lost her parents and have come to stay with me ”

”Uhmm…. Do we look alike? ”

He smiled and I could swear that it was the most beautiful smile Ive ever seen.

”We both have same skin color and look at our nose, so hell buy that lie ” he said smiling again.

”Really? ”

”Sure. Don worry, Ill help you ” he said holding my hand in a reassuring way.

I remembered Ola. She had wanted to help me too but was taken away from me. Tears started to flow from my eyes again, I missed Ola so much.

”Do you really have a bank of tears waiting to be opened at every point ”, he asked comically.

I half smiled wiping my tears. ”I just miss Ola and Im scared something bad would happen to you too, just like her ”

”Nothing will happen. Just take your time. Relax. Shower. I will get you what you need, food and some clean clothes. Its all up to you when you want me to introduce you to the senator. Here will be your new home until you can remember everything you need. Okay? ”

”Yes. Thank you so much … ”

”Oh! Im sorry. My name is Tariebi but you can call me Tare ”

”Tare ”

”Yes Love. It means Love. Love is good ”

”Its a nice name. I am Oge. Time ”

”And your time would come ”

We both smiled. We were really getting along well.

* * *

The first few days I spent in the place I now considered home, I was always on edge. Even though Tare kept convincing me that everyone liked me, I doubted him because I chose to believe they all knew we were lying. The senator took a particular liking to me, at first it made me uneasy for he was the man I was locked in his trunk. Gradually, I settled in to the household, everyone here was warm not just Tare but he was still my favorite. Something about him made me want to be always close around him. At first it was all about brother-sister bond and friendship bond but then it wasn anymore, to me. It felt more, or at least I wanted more. One day while I was cooking in the kitchen and he joined me to just chat after he was done washing cars. I jokingly asked in between our usual banter.

”How would we explain ourselves to people if we later decide to start going out ”

He had laughed so much that it took him so much time to respond which made me even nervous.

”Why would we want to make this friendship a romantic one. We are family here, we have each other. If one day you meet someone, I will support you. Come on, you think too much. ” He said still laughing.

”Really? ”

”Sure. Please call me when the food is ready. I need to freshen up. Lest I forget, the senators youngest daughter would be visiting but I don know when. He mentioned it to me this morning. ”

He left the kitchen immediately and that topic was never brought up again. Somehow I knew he already had an idea that I was developing feelings for him and he wanted to avoid that conversation at all cost. I already knew he liked me but wasn sure if it had any romance in it. Regardless, I knew too well not to bring it up and we spent the rest of the days that followed avoiding that topic.

The senator kept showering me with so much love and gifts. For the first time I felt the loving warmth of a father figure in my life. I would always thank him and in return he would always ask for a hug. I didn think much of it, I felt he wanted to have that feeling of being loved by a child since his children never came home. They all lived thousands of miles away from their father.

Small fatherly appreciation hugs soon turned to pecks and hugs. It made me a little uneasy but like always I took no meaning to it. This continued even after his daughter, Dami, came home. I always wondered if she was someone my age or older than me. When I finally got to meet her I was pleased, she reminded me so much of Ola. Sweet, friendly and compassionate. I wondered if this was really going to be my home because I doubted it strongly at the back of my mind even though Ive grown to love everyone here.

The senator soon stopped from deceiving attempt of fatherly attention to a full blown attempt at an affair. He openly declared his interest in me and how he wanted me to be his lover. He would come home with gifts for me and ask the other servants to relieve me of my duties and allow me relax in his house. He promoted Tare, increased his salary even, all in an attempt to convince me to be his ”girl ”. The whole thing really threw me off, I wondered why he couldn just chose another girl of his liking. I was same age with his youngest daughter and that made it even worse.

A week later, the senator threw a lavish surprise birthday party for Dami. Tension eased and I could relax during her birthday planning. Her father made sure she didn have any iota of idea of what everyone was planning. I was told to accompany the driver to bring her back from the salon that evening. When she saw me she already knew something was going on and smiled as she hugged me.

”What has my father planned today? ”

I smiled back, ”I have no idea, I just followed instructions ”

”Alright then, lets not disappoint him, lets go ”

We had car conversation on our way home. At first, it started as small talks about school and the domestic workers at home. Then she turned to look at me seriously.

”What do you really want to do with your life? ”

”Im sorry? ”

”Do you really want to end up as my fathers cook? ”

”Of course not. I just don really have what it takes to survive independently now. ”

”Which is? ”

”Family, money, support ”

”Oge ”

I looked at her not sure what she wanted to say.

e always welcome to my family. Im sorry about your parents but Ive seen how sweet my father is towards you. He can give you all the money and support you want ”

”He is your father ” I half screamed.

”Oge come on. This is what young girls who have no financial support do for themselves. Its called ”hustling ” and you can stop seeing him when he has established a solid business for you. He is my father and I know him too well, more reason why Im the only one who comes visiting him. He changes girls all the time and that disgusts my older siblings. I just understand him sometimes because he is old and lonely. You stand to gain a lot than him if you really stop resisting and just give in ” she paused to see if I was buying what she was saying but I maintained a blank look.

”Okay, think of cooking, I love your meals. You mustn be the one cooking, you could start a business in cooking. It will sell off and you can start having that independent life you so much desire. ”

Her speech was so smooth and I wouldve fallen for it if I didn know any better. Her father was in his late sixties, what could I possibly be doing with him despite all the money he had. I just knew it wasn right and didn agree with my person. On a second thought, I wondered what I could gain from having an affair with the senator. I could finally trace my family and go back home.

What should I do?

The rest of the drive was spent in silence until we reached the house. The compound was empty, no cars to indicate a party was going to happen that night, it looked so dark. I wondered if at all anyone remembered it was Damis birthday. Together we went to the sitting room and the light suddenly came up.

”Surprise! ” , everyone chorused.

I had that electric feeling run through my brain and I remembered again. It had been my twenty fourth birthday and I was standing right in front of the sitting room like this. Everyone was gathered with beautiful smiles plastered on their faces and a card that said ”Happy Big 24! ”. I remembered.

It was only brief as I looked around and saw Dami hugging everyone excitedly and I smiled too. I could relate with that feeling. I knew then, with patience in my heart that I was going to remember everything one day. Who I was exactly.

My eyes swept the room and I saw Tare staring at me like he was lost. I smiled at him and he nervously smiled back and looked away. What was that for? I ignored him the rest of the night. Danis party was really beautiful, the senator was sure a man with good taste. He spoiled her silly. The thought of accepting his advances crossed my mind again and I waved it off. But each time I saw him looking at me, the thought always came back.

I felt tired from all the dancing, I decided it was time to retire. Walking down the hallway to my room, someone grabbed me from behind and before I could tell who it was, wet hot lips were crushing down mine. I fluttered my eyes open to see Tare and I closed them back again to savor in this moment. He kissed me with so much urgency and need like he has been denying himself of this for a very long time. He grabbed my waist, fondled my body with his other hand while still kissing me. My hands kept running around his hair and ears as my heart pounded with so much ferocity. His lips tasted so delicious.

He pulled away when Dami walked in on us. She stood fixed, looking at us with her mouth wide open. She couldn find any word to say as she just stared. After some awkward moments, Tare apologized and left and I was left standing stupid, with my dress still ruffled from the kiss, looking at her not sure what to say.

”Are you really cousins? ”

”No ”

”Then, what? ”

”Its a long story. Please sit with me while I explain it all to you. ”

”Its my birthday Oge, I have guests ”

”Please ”, at that moment I saw myself losing an important friendship.

”Okay. Five minutes ”

We sat down and explained everything to her and how I ended up in her fathers house.

”Oh my goodness Oge. How could you not tell me all of this. I thought we were friends, I could at least help you find your parents. Im even more mad that you hid this from me ”

” I wasn sure of telling you because you always sided with your dad ”

”Yes he is my father but I only advised you to think of accepting him, only because I felt you had no option again. I was told you lost your whole family. I felt my father could give you a new life. Now that you mention you have another family and life out there but can seem to remember, the most important thing to do is to reunite you with them ”

”You would do that for me? ”

”Of course. Come on ” she said hugging me, then turned and looked at me again.

”Do you really love Tare ”

”I think so ”

”Do you think he loves you? ”

”I don know. Maybe ”

”Girl, if its a ”Maybe ” then you have to get your head out of there. A man should be sure of a woman he wants and make her feel same way too. If not, then he might just not be the one for you. Besides, my dad has a hot temper, he just might throw you guys out immediately or even lock you in prison. He can be jealous, don let him catch you though ”

We smiled and the rest of the night went smoothly.

Tare didn speak of the kiss again, he avoided me. And for the first time, I took Damis advice to forget him. I started ignoring him too and acted like he never existed. Some of the workers noticed it because they knew how close we were (as cousins) and when they asked me I gave an excuse. I avoided him more and after some time, he got tired of the whole silent treatment and came to apologize. He met me at the lobby and held my hand which I removed at once. I told him I didn care anymore but then he opened up.

”Oge, I was scared of losing this job that was why Ive never made any move. This job means a lot to me because the world out there is harsh. I just couldn help myself the other night. Im sorry ”

”Stop saying you are sorry ”

”I don care about the job anymore. Its you I want Oge ”

”You don mean that. The job is your life ”

”I am in love with you and we will take this one step at a time ”

I have always dreamt of him saying these words and to hear them said to me calmed every doubts I had in my heart. I let him kiss me again but that kiss was cut short. Again.

”What?! ” ”In my house?! ”

I panicked as I stood up immediately from where I sat. The senator was red eyed as he removed his spectacles.

”You deceive me, in my own house? Eee Tare, after everything Ive done for you? ”

Tare steadied me behind him and turned to the senator.

”Im sorry sir. Im sorry that you had to find out this way ”

”You mean about you and your girlfriend who is your supposed cousin? ”

”Sir we can explain ” I pitched in.

”Yall can explain later in prison. This is identity fraud ”

”Sir, please ” Tare knelt before him. ”Take only me but don punish her. Its all my fault ”

The senator ignored us and called the police who came to arrest us. Dami was coming in to the impound when they were leading us away. She pleaded with her father to let us go but he refused. I don know what she later said to him but he let me free but Tare was taken away by the policemen.

I felt empty once again. I keep getting people that cared about me in trouble. I didn know what to do, I was exhausted from trying to find something for myself in the world. I lost hope. I had no one.

”Don give up now Oge. ” Dami said standing me up from where I lay on the tarred road after chasing the police car to bring back Tare.

”Im tired Dami. Ive lost two new families Ive made in a space of months. Im sorry but allow me to give up ”

”No. I can . I told you how bad my fathers temper is. Right now, Im not sure of bringing Tare out from there but I promise you, I will try all my best to bring him out and help him find his feet back again. But as for you, we need to get you out of here. He hates you right now and I don want him to hurt you. Come on. We need to leave right now ”

”Allow him to hurt me. Im even tired of struggling and finding peace and having it snatched away ”

”Now stop, Oge ” she sounded angry.

”I can no longer tolerate you anymore if you keep sounding pathetic. Don you want to see your family again. Tare is not your only family. Im here but for you to see your family, you have to be alive. Now stand up ”

I stood up and followed her to the car where she packed. We entered and no word was said as she drove until we reached a bus stop.

”Now Oge. Remember what I had told you about finding your family. Well I have made some research about families that their twenty five year old daughter was missing and most of the research keeps turning up to a particular city. I had wanted us to go together but with the new situation at hand. Its best you go alone. ”

She paused to wipe my tears again for the second time.

”My friend will be at the arrivals waiting when you come into the city. Ive told her all about you. She will help you and the good part is that she is a professional cook. She cooks for big occasion, so while you search for your parents, you can do something you love. ”

”Thank you Dami, I could never repay you ”

”Please don . Just promise me one thing ”

”Whats that? ”

”Promise me to never be pathetic no matter how tough things get. To remain strong ”

I paused. It sounded easy but it would be difficult. One thing I was sure of, was that, if Dami could be strong for me at this point, then I have to be strong for myself too.

”I promise ”

We hugged each other so tightly and shed some tears as she saw me off. Giving me a wad of cash inside a purse to take care of myself and get things I would need. I was already missing her. I quietly sat on the bus while she waited for us to leave.

How did I get so lucky with friends.

The bus started leaving and as it picked up speed, we waved goodbye to each other as she receded into the distance until finally I couldn see her anymore.

I wondered solemnly if we would cross paths again.

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