Ekpe lives a simple life. He made good money from his beach side country kitchen at the Marina Beach. As head chef and owner, he cooked the special delicacies served there himself, and took great joy in it. He spent his days at his business, and his evenings in his apartment just above the restaurant or he walked the beach. He lives for the quiet mornings he spends with a hot cup of cocoa, gazing out at the sea. He loves simplicity – craved it – and lives his life as he wants.
He tastes the Soup he is currently preparing and decides to add more salt. The people he is preparing it for are the elderly couple who have decided to celebrate their 25th year anniversary at his restaurant. The man is still hopelessly in-love with his wife and was child-like in his delight as he ordered the day’s special. “That’s her favourite” he added to Ekpe with a conspirational wink. Ekpe stirs the soup and wonders idly what it feels like to be in-love with the same person for over 25 years.
He glances out at the beach.
She is still there. The girl on the beach.
She is wearing a long, sequined, milky white dress and her hair billows around her face as she perches on a big rock, facing the sea. Her hands are clasped in front her. He hopes she is not one of those people who think the sea – or rather drowning in it – will solve their problems. Just like the pale young man who spent hours walking the beach before topping himself into the water, leaving behind a dirty coat. Three months later, Ekpe is still haunted by him. This Girl doesn’t move. She just sits and stares. She has been there all day. From the moment Ekpe hung out the open sign on the door of the restaurant till now.
The wind today blows hard; bringing with it icy droplets and the tang of salt from the sea. The Girl has no coat. No bag or purse. No hat or scarf. Nothing. Ekpe shakes his head. In that flimsy dress, he thinks, she’ll catch a deathly cold. He gives the soup a final stir and covers it. Then grabs a jacket from the door peg beside him, drapes it over his arm and heads out to the beach.
“Here. It’s a bit smelly, and looks a tad too big. But it’s waterproof and it even has a hood. You can have it.” He offers the Jacket to her.
The Girl blinks up at him and stares.
“The weather today is too windy to be going about in that scrap of a dress. You’ll catch a cold.”
Still no response. She just stares.
“Look. I’ll leave it here with you. Wear it or shove it in a bin”. He dumps the jacket at her feet and turns to leave.
“Thank you.” She says.
“Ah, so you can talk?”
“Of course I can talk.” She snaps.
“Great. What’s your name then?”
“Marie” She looks surprised as she says it, like she can’t quite remember where her answer came from.
“Hello Marie. What are you doing here?”
“I…I don’t know”.
“Where are you from?”
“I really don’t know”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I can’t seem to remember anything.”
She blinks rapidly at him, then jerks her face away.
He studies her, not quite sure what to make of her. She has shoulder-length brown hair, a petite frame and a very pretty face. But something is not quite right about her. She isn’t scruffy enough to be homeless, and she looks too fit to be a drug junkie. Infact, she has a refined air that can only come from high-class breeding. Nevertheless, she looks, he searches for the right word and then it comes to him…she looks lost.
She turns back to him and says ” You know, I think I’ve lost my memory. That’s the only thing that makes sense to me right now. The only thing I can remember is my name…but…I mean, I don’t even know where I live or where I’m from. Everyone is from somewhere, right?”
“Right. Well, are you injured? Did you hurt your head?”
She blinks and pats her hair “No.” She shakes her head firmly now “No, I didn’t.”
“Have you lost your memory before?”
“I don’t know” She says ingeniously.
“You know you’re in Calabar, don’t you?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
He considers that for a moment then says, ” I assume you have nothing with you? Anything that’ll give us a clue as to who you are and where you’re from”
“No, I don’t.” She splays her fingers.
Ekpe rubs a hand over his face and mutters
“Jesus. This is crazy”. A very pretty homeless girl with no memory. Seemed like the plotline of one of those daytime soap operas his mother loved so much.
Well, whoever she was, he could hardly leave her here on the beach looking forlorn without a guilty conscience.
So he said, “My apartment is above the restaurant over there. I bet you’re hungry. I could fix you something…and see what I can do about…” About what exactly? Her situation? He shrugs and lets his voice drop.
The Girl blinks hard and wonders why her lashes keeps trapping tiny stones. Just as she wonders why she’s at the beach; staring at the vastness of the sea, why she’s considering hospitality from a tall man who, for all she knows, could be a serial killer.
She narrows her eyes and studies him. He has a long droopy face, close-cropped hair and a tall, athletic build. He seems nice enough but one could never be sure. Thunderclouds rumbled in the distance and the wind seemed to blow stronger. It wouldn’t be long before the rain started pouring down. She had two options; take a chance on him or die of cold in the storm that was blowing in. She crosses her fingers.
“Thank you. A hot cup of tea sounds heavenly”.
“Good. Wear that jacket” he says and turns back to lead her to his home.
Philip tugged at his collar nervously and his Mother didn’t bother to hide the sideways glance she gave him. They were at the Police station; in the office of the City’s Director-general of Police. Looking for his absconded fiancé of course.
“… is really unfortunate and baffling. We have gone through her things; looking for clues she might have left behind as to where she was headed. Nothing. We saw nothing.”
Mrs. Ayeni sniffled and his mother sent her a pitying glance. Poor woman. He could only imagine what the whole situation was doing to her and her husband. The husband was not here though, probably had one political meeting or the other. It seemed surreal now that the bird-like Mrs. Ayeni would have been his mother-in-law. So much could change in a week.
“Just how are we sure she was not kidnapped?” Mrs. Ayeni said with a barely suppressed wail.
“Although, it is probable, I think it’s unlikely in this situation. There was no evidence of violence against Marie at the time she disappeared. Someone should have seen something. All clues point to the fact that she left on her own.” The Director-general said.
Philip decided to show some emotions, so he gave a loud sigh. He agreed with the Police. Marie wasn’t kidnapped. Not after what she saw on the night of the engagement party. He only wished he hadn’t gotten so drunk. And that he had urged Ayo into the hotel room before…
“…intensify our efforts. We’ll keep searching. But while we do, you can keep talking to people who were with Marie at the hotel. Someone must know something. They’re just not saying it.”
Philip mopped his face and coughed violently. This time, his Mother turned to him with an arched brow and an expression that screamed the question ” What’s wrong with you?!”
I’m fine Mother. Just running scared.
He gives her a reassuring smile and then turned to the Director-general to say
“I’ll continue to talk to our close friends, see if they saw or heard anything. Anything at all.” He sure hoped not. He was banking on the fact that Marie would be too embarrassed to let out his secret. But taking off the way she did? Right before their wedding? It seemed the recklessness of the Girl had no bounds.
“That’s great then. I’ll schedule another meeting as soon as we get an update.”
Mrs. Ayeni pressed her lips thinly and dabbed at her eyes to prevent herself from breaking down again. Silly tears. If and when she saw Marie again; she promised herself to skin the girl alive for putting her through all this. The shock and frenzy at the wedding, the stories they’d had to make up for the media and ‘concerned’ Guests, and the gossip she was sure was picking up speed. Not to mention all that money spent on the wedding wasted! One week of pure hell as she moved from Chagrin, to worry over the safety of her daughter, to anger at the stupidity of the Girl, then back to Chagrin and pure disbelief at the whole thing. She was tired of listening to this man mutter platitudes about the situation; what did he or anyone know about the lass she raised for twenty-two years?
“I have to go now.” She stood up sharply and intense pain rushed to her thighs. She winced and leaned on the table for support.
“Are you okay?” Mrs Igbene looked at her with concern.
No, I’m not. She wanted to say. I’m really not. My husband seems to think it is my fault that our daughter disappeared on her wedding day, embarrassing us both. So he has taken to pumelling me every chance he gets. Can’t you see the bruise on my wrist? I thought he was going to snap my fingers. He did that yesterday. Does your husband beat you too?
But She said, “I’m fine.”
Every runaway bride has a story. But what if Marie can’t remember hers? And what is Philip hiding? Ah, the Plot thickens. 😉
Part 2 in the A Lily for Marie – The runaway bride series. Give me a Thumbs-up if you enjoyed that! 🤗