• Dreams and Chaos by Sentilong Ozukum

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Preview of First Chapter
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Honestly, tell me.
What do you do when your best friend confesses her feelings for you?
 
Option 1
You close your eyes, shut the chaos of the world and reflect on your relationship. Maybe, somewhere in the recesses of your heart, there’s a seed ready to sprout. Love is the trickiest of all human emotions and it often masquerades as ‘friendship’ before it unveils its true self. So, pick up the phone, call her and see where it leads you.      
 
Option 2
There is certainly nothing wrong in exploring whether you could reciprocate her feelings, imagining what it would be like to be together. Think of it this way. No one would risk a great friendship if they weren’t sure about how they felt. Recall the moment when she confessed her feelings for you. Did your tummy flutter and excitement bubble? Did you feel anything shifting inside you? Even if it didn’t, isn’t she the first person you run to with your problems, the first you want to share every success and the person with whom you’ve had your happiest moments in life? Surely, it wouldn’t be so difficult to let the friendship blossom into something more beautiful!  
 
Option 3
If the thought of being together leaves you cold, at least go meet her and get things straight. Tell her that you cherish and respect the friendship and that it means the world to you.  Tell her how brave she is and how flattered you are but you wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the friendship or let anything come in between the two of you.    
 
Well, I’m not proud to tell you this but I did none of these things. Instead I did the worst thing any human could ever do. I ignored her.
I know, I’m a total loser.
On that fateful afternoon when Ali sent me the message, I stood paralyzed, staring at the phone, then panicked and deleted her words like they were a contagious virus. To my shame, I went home and continued with my life as if nothing had happened. I didn’t get in touch with her the next day or the day after that or any of the days that followed. She didn’t contact me either. In a single day, with one single cryptic message, we morphed from best friends to total strangers.
Christmas came and there were no cards or gifts, not even a ‘Merry Christmas’ message from her. She didn’t show up at the church either. When my mother enquired of her, I lied to her and said she was spending the winter vacations with her cousins. I was a total jerk.  
Once the New Year dawned, I’d moved past feeling bad and thinking I should contact her. But somehow I couldn’t muster enough courage to pick up the phone and call her. She also didn’t make any efforts to enquire of me and I simply assumed she must be happy and content without me. That’s what I told myself anyway. January faded and so did Ali. She no longer existed in my orbit. I would have ignored her for the rest of the year if it hadn’t been for a February afternoon when my entire world collapsed upon my shoulders.
This is exactly what happened.
By then, I was madly in love with Esther – All my thoughts revolved around her and not a single day passed by without us talking on the phone as often as we could. Life couldn’t be better. There was only one small problem. We still were yet to meet in person. The special moments we hadn’t shared made my heart ache. No romantic dinner dates, no walks in the park, no laughter and touching of hands, no blushing intimate talks sitting beside her.
“I’m too nervous to meet you now,” she told me every time I hinted at a meeting. “I will meet you when I feel ready.”
Nerves, when we were so close, didn’t make sense. It sounded like an excuse but she had a really busy winter. In December, she had to move out of town for more than a couple of weeks to be with her aunt who was recovering from a gallbladder operation and needed help with her kids. January saw her not having a single day off from helping her mom with her catering business, a never-ending stream of weddings, birthday parties, and meetings to cover. By February, she’d moved into a hostel near the college to focus on studying for her finals. Meeting up was out of question until after our exams. As hard as it was to be patient, it made the thought of our first date even sweeter.
I had no idea everything was about to change.
I’d gone to the town early one morning to photocopy study notes and was waiting at the bus stop to head home, expecting nothing more than the usual Saturday. I boarded the bus and there was Esther, in the middle seat, looking beautiful as she gazed out the window. Dressed in a black cardigan, she looked just as beautiful as the first day I ran into her. I couldn’t believe my luck running into her. My face exploded into a grin I couldn’t control. A chance meeting was so romantic. She turned her head and I waved, expecting a blushing but excited smile before she motioned me to join her. There might be some awkward, stammering, giggling seconds, then we’d be talking the same away as always—as if we’d known each other forever.
That wasn’t what happened.
Instead, her expression was blank, not a flicker of recognition before she turned back to the window. There had to be an explanation. My stunned brain settled on her being embarrassed to acknowledge me in public, and I spent the ride standing, stealing glances. Every time I looked at her my heart beat so hard it threatened to explode from my chest. Her deep hazel eyes held me captive once again. Everything about her was perfect. She caught me staring but every time she just sat there, pretending we were strangers. It was weird, but she had to have her reasons.
I called her the minute I reached home.
“Ignored you? Of course not, I didn’t see you.”
It sounded lame, even to my forgiving ears. Further interrogation had her admitting it was her outing day from the hostel and her mom was sitting behind her. Not the right time for a first meeting and she didn’t want to field a million questions from her mother. Her excuse didn’t sit right and irritated me, but I let it go. What we had was too great to let something small ruin it.
That might have been the end of it if, unbelievably, I hadn’t run into her again four days later. In the market on an errand for my dad, I spotted her from a distance, standing at the bus stop. Her presence halted me in my tracks, not because of her beauty, but because she’d told me she’d be studying all day for her geography exam. Maybe there was a family emergency and she needed to go home. Anxious to check everything was okay, I strode over and tapped her on the shoulder.
“So, we meet again,” I said, blushing, cringing inside.
She blinked, brows meeting in a delicate frown. “Excuse me?”
I chuckled. “Is your mother around again? Maybe you should introduce us this time.”
She stepped back, putting distance between us, glancing around as if searching for help.
“You can drop the act,” I said with a reassuring smile. “I’m not gonna bite.”
“I think you’ve mistaken me for somebody else,” she said, glancing at her watch then looking anxiously down the street for the bus.
Maybe whatever was making her impatient to get home was why her voice sounded different from when we chatted on the phone, but it didn’t explain her performance. There wasn’t anyone with her today.
I laughed again, trying to make light. “You’re seriously going to do this? Didn’t you say you’d be studying in your room?”
“I’m sorry, but you’re mistaking me for someone else,” she repeated, offering a polite but cold smile.
“Come on, what are you doing here? Why don’t you quit the drama and let’s go somewhere and have coffee?”
Her polite expression turned to irritation, her hands balled into fists, and she took another step back. Her civility hung by a thread. “I’m telling you for the third time, you’re mistaking me for someone else. I don’t know you.”
She turned and walked towards a nearby counter, back straight, head high, leaving me scrambling to put the pieces of the puzzle together. She was alone, she’d never mentioned a twin sister, and it didn’t seem like she was pulling a prank, but there had to be an explanation. Determined to get to the bottom of it, and still holding out hopes of something beautiful, I approached her again.
“Excuse me,” I said, hesitant this time but pushing past her annoyed sigh. “Your name is Esther, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Are you sure you don’t know me?”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”
She checked her watch again, looking like she was ready to call the police and have me arrested as a habitual sex offender any second. I apologized and backed away. Shocked and confused, I could only think of one more thing to try. I pulled my phone from my pocket and dialed.
The line rang in my ear, but no sound came from the gorgeous girl in front of me, no ringtone from her purse or vibration from a pocket.
The line crackled as my call was answered. “Hello, Molu.”
I could hear the smile in the voice, the same voice I’d been speaking to for the past three months.
My knees began to tremble.
“How’s your day going?” I mumbled, fighting my shock.
“Drowning in a sea of geography notes. How’s yours?”
I looked at the girl in front of me, looked at the name ‘Esther’ on my phone screen, and cut the connection.
I bolted to the nearest corner and leaned against the wall for support, legs barely able to hold me, my heart pounding inside my chest. What in the holy freakin’ world had just happened? First, my girlfriend refuses to acknowledge me in public, then it turns out I’ve been talking to someone else all along. Was this some cruel practical joke? No one can change vocal cords overnight or be in two places at once. If I wasn’t talking to Esther, then who, and why was she pretending to be Esther? Was Esther involved? Questions leading to more questions raced and tumbled in my head, without any answers. An entire chapter of my life had been rewritten, monumental events wiped out, but the memories remained vivid in the inky stains left behind. A past I’d been certain of, a future I’d planned, scoured away with maddened slashes.
Esther’s bus arrived and she got on without a single glance in my direction. Why would she? She didn’t even know me. I was just another jerk vying for her attention. The bus pulled away, taking Esther out of my life for good. She wasn’t the one that could help make sense of the chaos and confusion anyway. Nervously, I dialed the number of the one person that could.
She took her time picking up, but finally, her familiar voice was on the end of the line. “Hello, baby, anything wrong?”
“Who are you?”
“Whatever do you mean?” Her tone was playful, laughter dancing behind her words.
“I mean who are you? I want to know who you are, and what pleasure you got from toying with me for the past few months.”
There was a moment of silence before the dial tone hummed. She’d hung up.
Irritation mounting, I dialed again, but she had switched off her phone. I tried again and again with no success. Frustration and rage built with every attempt, roiling in my blood with every passing minute. Blindly wandering, my chest tightened and I could hardly breathe. As I leaned against the door of a coffee shop, my vision blurred and everything around me faded.
What a big, fat joke my life had turned out to be, spending months on cloud nine, wildly in love. I’d trusted Esther more than I’d trusted my own mother, ready to do anything for her. There had been things in my life I wasn’t sure of, but I was sure of what I felt for her. Happiness had bubbled inside me every night as I lay in the darkness, thinking about the beautiful days we would spend together and the depth of love that would envelop us both for the rest of our lives. Our first date. Our first kiss. My proposal. Our wedding. Our marriage. Our kids. I’d envisioned them, building my future around the perfectness of it all. I would study hard, graduate, get a good job, and be with her until the end of my days. I was going to write the most beautiful love story of our age, and for all ages to come. I couldn’t think of anything now except the future I’d lost.
On the verge of collapsing, I stumbled into the coffee shop and made it to a corner table in the dimly lit space. With trembling hands, I raised the glass of water the server had brought and gulped it down. It steadied and calmed me, but my brain burned with a need for answers. I needed to deconstruct this, go back to the beginning. It had started with the phone number. Who’d given me that number?
My best friend, Ali.
Anger boiled like molten lava. Ten years of friendship reduced to some evil revenge scheme. Part of me refused to accept that my best friend would betray me, yet there didn’t seem to be any other explanation. Who was the girl pretending to be Esther? And had Ali set her up too? Maybe she was in on the plan to mess with me. The server had brought me a latte I didn’t remember ordering, but I sipped it gratefully as everything swirled in my head. It felt as frothy as the milk in my cup. I was no closer to enlightenment when I finished it, so I tossed some money onto the table and stormed to the taxi rank, practically throwing myself inside the first cab in line.
Leaning forward, I spat out Ali’s address. As the cab pulled out into traffic, I clenched my fist and fought back tears of betrayal.
I was going to burn her freakin’ house down


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TITLE: Dreams and Chaos

AUTHOR: Sentilong Ozukum

PUBLISHER: Heritage Publishing House

ISBN: 9788194728573 

DELIVERY: All India 


When his best friend in college and love guru confesses her love for him, Moluti's world turns upside down. Little does he know that this is just the beginning of an avalanche of upside down encounters of life changing magnitudes that he will have to wade through. 

Will our young, naively in love Moluti finally move into adulthood to find a purpose of his own? 

Journey with the protagonist Moluti as Ozukum takes you on a journey of the growing pains of adulthood, of expectations unrealised, of learning how to let go and moving on, of a love lost and found and, of second chances. In the chaos, you might just find yourself crossing paths with Moluti in the grand scheme of life.

It is Moluti's bildungsroman. It is everyone's bildungsroman.

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Dreams and Chaos by Sentilong Ozukum

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