Building Bridges

The conference was getting rowdy. My friends were arguing, harassing and talking above one another and I was tired of the maddening banter. It wasn’t always this way. We used to laugh a lot, talk fantasies, and gossip. I put my phone on speaker and dropped it on the work table in front of me. I picked up a piece of material I had cut and matched it with its pair. I checked to see that I had cut all the patterns out so that I could begin putting the dress together. Hopefully, it would be a very glamorous one that could possibly wow everyone at the Lagos Runway; a fashion show that I was banking on to push my fashion career into the limelight.

My staff had left for the day; their absence allowed me to be free to dress down to my underwear while I worked. Electricity was erratic and as I was micromanaging my finances. Since there was no electricity, my goal for the evening was to cut out the materials for two dresses and design another on my sketch pad.

Cecilia called Sisi was shouting at Ronke who had questioned Sisi’s style of disciplining her children while Christy was acting as a buffer trying calm them down but working hard not take sides. It was obvious that she agreed with Ronke. I did too but I was wise enough to be silent about my thoughts because Sisi was like a volatile pot of palm oil. I believed that if your three year old son repeats a bad word he heard at school, he should be corrected and if he kept at it he should be spanked or punished till he stopped. Sisi believed that a three year old was too young to know what he was doing and all that was required is to use a better word to replace that bad one. I loved Sisi like a sister but it would be obvious that we could not be from the same family; belief system and values too different.

“Dupsy, you are not saying anything now. What do you think?” I heard Ronke direct a question at me. I guessed that she was tired of the argument and wanted a way out.

” Erm! I am actually concentrating on cutting a dress for the fashion show and I want it to be dope so I don’t want to engage in this argument of yours.” I told them.

Sisi turned on me, “Na wa o! We are here on a call talking with you with and you are using us to work.”

“Why would she not work when all you do is cause trouble every time?” Ronke replied Sisi and it started over again; the bickering getting on my nerves. The noise was even at a higher decibel than before and Christy was in between again acting as a buffer.  Looked up from what I was doing and I sighed. With a single touch of my phone screen, I ended the call.

“Peace at last.” I said out loud. I had finished cutting and was pinning some of the pieces together when the phone rang again. I groaned.

“Hold on, let me put the others on conference.” Ronke’s voice came on. After a few minutes, Sisi and Christy were connected also.

“So, Dupe, you can cut the call on us abi? That was outrightly rude.” Sisi launched at me, in her characteristic outspoken and bossy manner.

“I was working, people and you were arguing. That was not a conversation my dear.” I retorted.

“Why were you even working at this time of the day? Its 9pm.” Christy rejoined Sisi in her attack on me.

“Girls, do I have to remind you that I have a fashion show coming up. I am extremely busy this season. Besides, my shop is downstairs my house.” I told them as I sat trying to sketch a unique jump suit on my pad with a 2b pencil I got from the kiosk opposite my rented house.

“She’s working at 9pm because she’s not married.” Sisi threw in, perhaps to get me riled up. She knew more than most that the topic was a sore one for me.

“Haba! You have come again o, how can you say that? We all have our different aspirations and she’s got a deadline. You would put in the same effort, married or not. Such nonsense talk.” Christy said.

“I’m telling you, it is not nonsense talk. Children would not allow you to work.  I’m talking from experience. I cannot achieve anything at home. I don’t even try.” Sisi said. She had three two rambunctious boys and a princess to the boot. It contradicted my thoughts of the future I saw for her daughter; as an equally rambunctious tomboy.

“If I cut the phone again you would all vex. All these things you people are saying is just annoying me.” I told them frankly.

“Hmm, she haf vex. The girl is just prouding.” Ronke chimed in a funny voice. We all laughed.

“I don’t know for her o, she’s just growing wings anyhow.” Sisi also threw in her own sentences in an annoying manner that we had warned her from using around us. The laughter from everyone grew more.

“Finally, some laughter. That is what I’ve been waiting for since the first call came in.” I told them. “See, our conversations are no longer interesting. All you guys do is beaker at one another. Meanwhile, the whole discussion and argument are about husband, children, and all that. Don’t you people have a life anymore? So we that are not married, we should go and jump inside Lagos lagoon or what? No edifying or just plain gossip sef.” I told them and the silence was obvious.

“Its true sha. The way these husband and children matter consume me ehn. It can just be overwhelming. Imagine what happened to me today. Felix was trying to…”

Ronke Interrupted her “Sisi, she just complained about something and you are already doing it again.”

“Dupsy, wait till you are married and then you will know what’s up.”  Sisi said sulking, she hated to be found wanting.

“I have to go. I need to iron some clothes for Monday.” Ronke said.

“Monday? Tomorrow is Saturday.” I reminded her.

“My dear, it’s about availability of electricity and time. Our generator cannot carry the pressing iron again and the boys are sleeping right now; the perfect time to do personal things.” Ronke replied.  She said her goodbyes and left. Christy followed too, mumbling some excuse.

“It seems that it’s the two of us again.” Sisi said.

“Always the two of us.” I grinned. Sisi and I had history. We had been friends for over 20 years.

“By the way, Damian said to invite you to my house tomorrow.” Sisi’s Elder brother was a good friend of mine. He had always been around us, helping us out of scrapes and teaching us one or two bad habits. He was always there to protect us though and he never let us too far into anything that was ‘bad.

“Really? Cool. I will drop by. It’s been ages.” I said nonchalantly.

Sisi snickered. “Is it me that you are deceiving? You and that humongous crush you had on him were all in my face for years.”

I laughed. “So? What does that have to do with anything? We’ve all moved on. Childhood crushes! Aww. I miss them. When life was simple a girl could just crush and fantasize and do it all over again with many people.”

“Ptcheeww! Please, better come and see if beta dey for you there.” Sisi said.

“I want to see the old boy too. It’s been 6 months I think. He probably looks the same and everything.” I responded, going down memory lane in my mind.

“Well, yeah, look who is counting the time and she says she is over the crush. I will see tomorrow na.”

Long after the call ended and I was in bed, I thought about Damian. I did have crush on him for so long but it died the day after I met his first serious girlfriend. She was not even a friendly person so I pulled away from Damian. I used to bat my eyelids at him and smile sheepishly for the fun of it and he always laughed when I did it. He would wink back at me and blew me a kiss. When we were younger I would wink back but as we grew older, his wink and blowing of kisses felt so wrong, and I would just smile and disappear to wherever Sisi was.

The next afternoon, I was at Sisi’s door, knocking persistently and hoping that the dogs were locked up because I walked in straight through the main gate. The security just sat afar watching me.

“Aunty Dupe.” Vincent her Eldest Son opened the door.

“Hi darling, how are you?” I asked, pulling him into a hug and pushing both of us into the house.

“The dogs are always locked up in the afternoon, Aunty.” Vincent said laughing.

“Whatever,” I responded eyeing him. The young chap was used to me and my ways. I had babysat him a million times that he thought I was his mother’s sister until he was a little older.

“Dupsy baby!” a voice drawled behind me. I turned around. Damian, his 6-feet self, leaning in a pose by the wall of the dining and smiling with a come-hither look beckoned on me. I laughed all the way to where he stood and gave him a punch in the stomach and he shouted.

“Aunty, that was mean.” Vincent said, shocked that I would do that type of thing. I always acted with propriety around them and was quite strict with them too. Obviously, he thought of his uncle so highly.

“It just looked mean but I was just playing with him.” I told Vincent.

Damian smiled and said to Vincent, “Aunty loves me. It’s a loving punch,” and the boy bought it because his next statement was “so, are you going to marry my uncle?”

Damian was laughing at this point.

I ignored them both. “You ask too many questions. Where is Sisi?”

“Mummy is in her bedroom.”

“Call her out for me. I need to see her ASAP”

Damian shook his head. “Just go to her bedroom”.

Sisi and I were very close but I drew the line at entering her bedroom. It was not that I could not but for me, it was an act to show that I respected her privacy and her marriage. I tiptoed towards her door. I knocked quietly. I didn’t get a response. I knocked a little harder. The door opened suddenly I almost fell through. Sisi looked a mess. I sized her up with my eyes. She looked a real mess. That she had a bad hair day was an understatement. It was more like a bad hair month. Her eyes were swollen and she looked exhausted.

I sat on the edge of her bed. Sisi sat on the floor.

I was about to comment on her horrid appearance but she burst into tears.

“It’s too much. This responsibility thing is shitty.” Sisi cried.

This was my cue to say something. I had nothing coming forth in my head.

“Every day, hustle. I come home, I’m mad at work again. I thought it was supposed to get easier when your kids get a little older. Instead I’m working, doing homework, meeting husband’s needs too. What was I thinking? Three kids? In this economy? ”

She got up and paced about the room. “I’m not complaining. I love my life but it’s just overwhelming at the moment. I feel like I’m not catching up anymore.” she sniffed and wiped her nose with tissue she swiped from a tissue box lying on the bed.

“Look at you, looking all elegant; sitting so poised. I look like your house help.”

I had to laugh. I did not need to look at myself’ I always made a great effort to dress well. This was always a topic of discussion between us anyway. I was always the well-dressed one and she was not that bad. I helped her to choose her clothing on countless occasions but at times she would pick what she wanted regardless of my suggestions.

“Sisi Cecilia! Are we back at this again for the hundredth time? Looking good is my business; my passion. It’s what I do. It’s a must for me. All you need to do is look presentable. A beautiful woman like you does not need much. I’ve told you all this before”

She smiled,” I can’t remember the last time that you called me Sisi Cecilia.” Sisi’s countenance was much better now. She had relaxed somewhat. “Babe, all I need is a breathing space. I just need to be by myself for a while. That’s why Damian is here, to help me.”

“To help you how? Look at you looking ragged. What exactly is he doing for you? ”

“My dear Dupsy, I will take whatever help I get. I cannot be choosy. Besides he’s great with the children. ”

I could help her. It was not as if I had anything planned. I could work on Sunday to make up for the time spent here.

“This is how it’s going to be. You take a few hours to rest and I would handle everything home front.”

Sisi jumped on me and hugged me. “You are always good to me.”

I left the room to see the children. The last two had woken from their nap. Jemima was 2, Cyril was 4 while Vincent was 7 years.

Damian and I made lunch for everyone. We sat them down at the dining table to eat.

It was chaos trying to get Cyril to eat. Jemima, the princess, was easy to care for except for constant ‘I want my mommy’ song. Damian handled Vincent who was all over the place. Between us, we were able to get them fed albeit all the shenanigans from the boys.

Felix came home to meet us at the table.

“I never expected to meet another family in my house. Where are my family members?” he exclaimed greeting us with a smile and touching his children all around.

“We are here, Daddy.” Vincent replied with food in his mouth.

“It is not possible. My family members are usually talkative during meals and they jump about. “Felix said and the children laughed.

Felix was a great man. He loved his family and provided for them. For me, I would expect him to be more involved at home but Sisi kept making excuses for him about how exhausting his work can be. I’m not one to judge but when your wife is going crazy, you have to take measures, make a change for her sanity. As Sisi often said, Felix was not raised to be domestic. I would never understand what that means. If you can eat, then you can wash your plate.

I convinced Felix to take Sisi out for a movie or hangout somewhere. He was delighted and Sisi was happy to get away.

I was left with Damian who had been watching me closely.

By night fall, the children had gone to bed. We sat by the television sipping some wine he fished out from the cellar.

“This is good.” he said, taking another sip.

“It’s amazing how much you’ve changed. I saw you last 6 months ago.” I said to him. Six months ago, he was with ladybird as Sisi would call her. She was a possessive woman and I knew they wouldn’t last because Damian liked his freedom. I would know, I’ve been a part of their lives since we were children. Damian was a great friend. He had blossomed into a hunk of a man and had all that swagger but I always saw right through him. We used to talk a lot so much so that their mother would ask if we were dating and when we denied this she would ask why we weren’t dating. Sisi always jumped to our defence and defused any uncomfortable situation.

“Truly amazing the woman you have become. Congrats on your business by the way. The last time we saw, you were quitting your banking job to do this.” he said, smiling at me.

“Damian, hmm, it was a tough one. I was a nervous wreck during that time. It was so crazy leaving my comfort zone in marketing for fashion. But I’m there now.” I told him.

He laughed, ‘I can imagine’.

“so, how is your fiancée? ” I asked. Of course I knew they had broken up; Sisi told me everything.”

“Fiancée? I did not ask her to marry me. It could not have worked.”

We talked about so many things. I discovered a different layer of Damian. I always saw him as a brother or young chap. It was interesting listening to the man he had become.

By 11pm, Sisi and Felix were back at home. Sisi gave me a big hug.

“You and you are life savers. I love you both. “She said. Damian pulled her into a hug. I remembered when he would push her away in his younger days because he did not want to appear emotional. Sisi was always the touching, hugging and kissing kind of person. Before I left, I whispered to her to douse down her excitement so that she does not end up making baby number four that night.

Damian dropped me at home by midnight. Before I stepped out of the car, he held out a little box to me.

“What’s this?” I asked

“Open it.” He said, his confidence oozing out like honey from the honeycomb.

I opened and found a white gold ring with diamonds embedded in them. It was a lovely ring.

“Nice ring, my kind. Who do you want to propose to you? ”

He smiled,” when I bought it two years ago, I had you in mind.”

I stared at him, my eyes wider and shining as brightly as the local lantern.

“Really?” I responded.” why? ”

“I always told myself that you were the kind of girl I would marry. You were easy to be around, we genuinely liked one another, we had some things in common and we’ve known each other for donkey years. “He said. “One day, I looked at you and I went straight to get this.”

“How come I never heard about this before?” I was exasperated.

“When I got back from the shops and got to where you and Sisi were, you were talking about a colleague of yours that you were interested in at work. I lost the confidence to ask you to marry me. ”

I was shocked. I remember that conversation with Sisi. I actually dated the colleague for a few months before I realized that we were not suited for each other. Around that time, Damian was dating ladybird.

“I want you to keep it.” He said.

“Phew! I thought that you would be asking me to marry you. “I responded, taking the ring. It was beautiful. He looked at me but did not say anything.” It’s late. Can I see you tomorrow? Sisi’s estate gate closes at 12.30.”

I agreed and we planned to meet.

My delivery at the Lagos runway was perfect. I got a lot of recognition. I met TY Bello, the renowned photographer, who said we could work together on something. I was excited. I made a lot of deals that day. Things were definitely looking up in other aspects too.

Damian had become a constant feature in my life; we hung out when we could. He lived close to Epe because of his business while I was based at Gbagada. It was a long commute for me but he didn’t mind going back and forth. We were both business owners. I had decided not to let the ring go to waste so I wore it on my right hand.

“I heard that you guys are dating now,” Christy said, our usual conference call was a constant feature of our Friday nights.

Na wa o, so you would be in law’s to Sisi. That’s a tough one,” Ronke said jokingly. We all laughed.

“One day, I will use soap to wash your mouth, this Ronke girl.” Sisi fired back at her.

“We just hangout.” I told them. I did not want anyone in my business, not even Sisi. Sisi begged me to help her babysit one more time. I was happy to oblige.

Damian was around again. This time it looked suspicious, more so when Sisi took Cyril out with her.

By the time Felix, Sisi and Cyril were out of the house, Damian was all over me.

“I love seeing that ring on you but I would prefer you wearing it on your left hand because you love me and want to be with me.” he said. I laughed.

“Interesting proposal.” I replied, studying my well-manicured nails.

He went on his two knees before me.

“I want to marry you because I love you and I want you with me for the rest of my life.” he said.

He pulled the ring from my right index finger and tried to wear it on the left.

I stopped him. “Are you sure? No doubts?”

“Not a one.”

“Okay.”

“Okay what?”

“Okay, yes I will marry you.” he was satisfied with my answer. I liked the ring on my left better.

It felt so weird after that. I was thinking, what next? While I was happy to be engaged, I was not totally convinced that I knew him that well to be married to him. I knew him as a child and a young man. I wondered about things like his values, his expectations from me and so many things. It was starting to get overwhelming. I felt that I was starting to act weird too because of the expressions I saw on his face every time he looked at me.

Vincent had some friends over. The person who invented play date did not consider all the effort that would go into it from the parent angle. They played video games, laughed, play fights in which they scattered the living room and made it look like a junk yard. Jemima wanted in on the fun with the boys. She was two going on three and she adored her brother, Vincent,  and most of the time, the love was reciprocated.

“Jemima, go away.” Vincent shouted at her as she stood blocking their view of the television.

“I want to play the game.” She begged but her plea fell on deaf ears.

One of Vincent’s friends got up to drag her away from the television. Damian and I watched it all happen and he was about to intervene but I asked him to hold on. I was interested in seeing how Vincent would react.

Vincent was laughing when Damian went over to pick up a crying Jemima off the floor. I called Vincent immediately to where I was.

“Vincent, I am surprised at you. You watched your friend treat your sister that way and you had nothing to say to him. You just sat there laughing. What kind of a brother are you?”

“Aunty, she is always coming to disturb us when we play. She was not supposed to be there.” He responded, folding his arms across his chest with defiance on his face.

“Relax Dupe, he is just a boy. What boy wants girl around on his turf when he is playing with friends.” Damian said, Jemima in his arms still whimpering.

“Just a boy? This is where it starts. He needs to learn values and some discipline. You should be punishing him for acting this way instead of taking sides with him.” I was angry at Damian. I did not expect to hear this type of comment from a man who just proposed to me a few hours ago.

“Calm down. You are taking this too far.” He said.

“No I am not. It is one thing not to want your sister around you; it is another to watch another boy push her like a piece of rubbish. Vincent, I am going to send your friends home tonight; no more sleepover. All of you need to think about what you have done. You don’t go about pushing little girls around. You protect them.” I said raising my voice so that all his friends could hear. They gathered around us.

Damian looked annoyed, “they are not going anywhere. Vincent, apologize to your sister. Boys, apologize to Jemima.” They all apologized. They however did not go back to the television; they went to Vincent’s room upstairs.

When the boys left, I turned back to Damian, pouring out my vexation. “Look Damian, I do not for one second like how all of this played out. You should not have stood in my way of disciplining these children. I felt that it was a crucial moment, an important one to teach them valuable lessons in life and you let it slide because ‘he is just a boy’.” My voice was raised and I was visibly shaking almost.

“Hey, get off your high horse, madam discipline. There is a time for everything; I get you. The boys apologized to Jemima. They now understand what they did. Besides, it is not your place to teach them these lessons anyway. Na wa o, just one day and you have assumed the role of firepower mummy.” He said in a condescending manner.

“Don’t ever talk down to me, don’t patronize me and undermine my authority in any way.” I warned him. It was better that I let him know what kind of person I was and how I wanted to run my household. Sisi and Felix were so busy running the house that they were not focusing on the values and the disciplining.

“And what about you, speaking to me so rudely. You talk about authority, why did you not leave the situation to me to handle? At the end, I dealt with it as it should be and that is what is annoying you badly right? Because I took the control of the situation out of your hands? Heck I just proposed to you and we cannot even deal well on day one.” He shouted back at me. Jemima was already crying again and he tried to pacify her.

The door bell sounded. I hissed and turned to open the door. A cheerful Sisi and Felix came in with a sleeping Cyril.

“Hi guys” she looked at my left hand and exclaimed joyfully. “Yes! yay! A wedding!”

I hissed again.  I was so angry.

Sisi looked at me alarmed and then at Damian. “What happened?”

Jemima jumped on her mother as she came closer to Damian. Sisi cooed her daughter till she was quiet. Vincent had come down to greet his parents.

“They were arguing, Mommy.” Vincent said. “And it was my fault.”

Damian spoke up, “Not your fault dear. Not your fault. What happened was bound to happen sooner or later. Sisi, you did not tell me that your friend had gone all high on power and everything.”

“What happened?” Sisi asked again.

“I am going to my house, I will see you all later.” I announced.

“let me drop you off, we need to talk.” Damian said.

“No thanks. I came with my car and I plan to leave the way I came. Sisi, you and I need to talk. You need to inculcate some core values into Vincent.” I left. As I was leaving I contemplated removing the ring and dropping it in Damian’s hands but I did not want to distress Sisi and Felix further. I wondered what Damian wanted to talk about. He probably wanted his ring back. I don’t think I was wrong in my actions tonight. I saw a car behind mine as I turned into my street.

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