I was at a Couples’ Ball last year December. It was a spectacular event; everything was well planned and the program was so interesting. I welcomed it with so much passion, because I needed a change; to get out of my dark stupor. A week to the Couples’ Ball, my longtime boyfriend walked out on me; no explanations. My head was still reeling from the effect of it and Tandi, my married friend had been telling me to read the writings on the wall but I refused to do so.
I was as mad as hell at him, at myself and at Tandi. I was mad with God himself because he let it happen. In a span of one week, I had lost a lot of weight; it was good for me though because it was something I wanted to shed. I was able to fit into a beautiful black lace ball gown that Tandi got for me to make me feel better. I had this lovely handcrafted drooping pearl earring I bought when I went for a short course at the Netherlands the year before. With my dark red matte lips, Smoky eyes and lovely hairdo, I looked like a dream; though a very mad one. Tandi was attending the Couples’ Ball too with her husband, Seyi. Seyi asked a friend of his to go with me. I was not delighted at that but I accepted it because I really wanted to attend the ball. It was a much talked-about event. Tuface, Basket mouth, Glowreeya Braimah, and a host of other artists and celebrities were invited.
Anyway, Seyi’s friend, Tola, picked me up at my place. He was quite a charming young man but I was out to draw blood that evening so I did not care and did not bother giving him much regard. I could see that he was quite taken with me. Who wouldn’t? I was looking absolutely gorgeous. I could see him look at my lips a million times; that’s what a good red lipstick can do. I wish I had it when Dola was with me; maybe it would have helped him stay. I still did not understand why he walked away. Anyway, Tola took me to the ball.
At the ball, a professional photographer was at the entrance taking pictures of couples as they entered into the beautifully decorated hall. Tola and I posed and I must say that we looked hot. He wore a nice black tuxedo and had a tiny silver earring in one ear and it glimmered in the lights and even in the dark. The photographer had asked him to stand behind me put his hands on my waist while I leaned into him and tilted my face to look at him. He was a little taller than I was. When he looked down at me, his eyes sparkled and it was as if lightning struck. It was a badass picture; so powerful; so intimidating. Other couples around whistled and a few men hit him on his back after the photo. It was that good.
When dinner began, Tola tried to chat me up but I was always turning to Tandi who sat by my side. I carried on with this attitude until Seyi whisked Tola to the dance floor.
Tola was not a shy one. He was very direct and had so much chutzpah that it irritated me. “So, you don’t want to talk to me or have anything to do with me?” He had asked once Tandi and Seyi went forward.
“Talk? Let’s talk.” I had replied arrogantly; my well-manicured and painted fingers gesturing for him to carry on with what he wanted to say. Tola looked at me and just smiled but he didn’t say anything. I was happy that he left me alone. I had warned Seyi and Tandi not to tell him about my recent breakup because I did not want sympathy from anyone or any attention out of pity.
I scouted around looking at the handsome men that came to greet Tola every other time. He seemed quite popular. He asked me to dance and I obliged. I loved to dance and apparently he did also. We had a good time on the dance floor.
When the night was over, he took me back home and asked if he could take me out sometime. I looked him in the eye and laughed. “Definitely not.” I said nastily, “But you can give me the number of one of your friends I met; the one with the afro. I would like you to give him my number.”
“For real?” He looked shocked and insulted and I could see that he was holding himself together. I was expecting him to curse me.
“Hmm. Yep. For real.” I said, looking at him and pouting my lips. I think I must have gone insane. This was not me. I don’t know why I felt I had to draw his blood. He wasn’t the one who broke my heart.
When he left, I thought I heard me call me ‘Ratchet’ but I wasn’t sure.
One year after the ball, I was no longer a mad female. I was one looking to settle down and I had set my cap for one guy named Sylvester that I met when he brought his mother to the hospital. I worked as an orthopedic nurse at the Hampton Harvey Teaching Hospital in Lagos.
Tandi worked there as well along with her brother in law, Dr. Fine Art. They were some of the friends I made since I transferred from Mohammadu Dogara Teaching Hospital in Kaduna.
When Sylvester brought his mother to the hospital, I was there to attend to her and I could see the way he took care of her. I was in awe. It wasn’t often that I met men who had that sensitive side. I collected his number to do a ‘follow up’ and we started dating.
We had been dating for 6 months and I was hoping that he was getting close to proposing. Seeing Tandi and all the other young nurses married made me desperate. I just wanted a man of my own. Sly knew I was after him and he loved the attention I gave to him. He never had a girlfriend like me and I was a step up from all the women he ever dated. All his friends told him so and I knew it myself. His mother liked me a little but I could see that she had reservations; her eyes said more.
“Sly, we’ve always been open with each other.” I said to him one day while we hung out at the carpark of the celebrity-owned restaurant, Café De Viande in Ikeja after a sumptuous meal.
“Sure, babe. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” He responded. I was trying to chip in that it was time to take ‘us’ a step further.
As I was about to respond, someone bumped into Sly. I was annoyed because I wanted his maximum concentration.
“So, sorry. I apologize. I was not looking.” the voice said and Sly was quick to accept the apology.
It was a man wearing a baseball cap and the scent of his perfume felt so familiar. When the man looked towards my direction as if he could feel my scrutiny, I was gripped with shock. The face I looked into mirrored my shock. Tola Owoseni, the man I treated shabbily at the Couples’ Ball was right in front of me. We had not seen each other seen that day but Tandi kept me informed whenever he was at their place.
“Tola, right?” I said. I could not pretend that I didn’t know him. That was not my way of handling things.
“Yes, Sade. It is interesting meeting you again.” He responded. He looked curiously at Sly and then back at me as if he expected me to introduce him. I just smiled. He shook Sly’s hands and waved at me. “I will be on my way. Apologies once again for bumping into you.”
“It’s fine.” Sly said. We watched Tola walk away and disappear into the restaurant. “Who was that guy?”
“Ehnn!” I muttered unintelligibly. I was not ready to tell him the story. It was in my past and I had a right to keep some things to myself even though Tandi mentioned a couple of times that when marriage is being considered it is better to tell everything so that there would be no surprises and trust issues. Well, I would cross that bridge when I get there.
“Babe, I’ve got to go. I promised to check on Mum. Do you want to come with me?” He looked like he wanted me to accept the invitation.
“I’ll pass. I have some errands to run.” His Mother was not one of my favorite people. She was not the type of Mother-in-law that I envisioned for myself. It was obvious that I did not match the expectations she had for her Son’s wife either. She made this known time and time again. “Sylvester is always busy and he needs a wife that can stay at home.” She said a couple of times in my presence. She knew I was a nurse and I was often very busy at work. Unfortunately Sly was her son and there was nothing I could do about getting her out of my life. I mentioned her reservations a time or two to Sly but he always ignored me saying that it was normal for a mother to be jealous of the woman in her son’s life but that she would warm up to me. It had been 6 months and she was still very cold.
Two days later, I was driving into my estate and parking my car when I heard a “hello” as I opened the door.
“Huh? What are you doing here? Are you stalking me?” I asked, stunned to see Tola standing by my little parking lot.
Tola, dressed in shorts and a T-shirt with a dark sun shade laughed, “You wish, Madam. I am as surprised to see you myself.” He said. “I just rented an apartment here.” It was the building opposite mine. I noticed that the previous occupants, a family of three, moved out a month ago and I wished that I could rent the place but it was too expensive. I lived in a mini-flat attached to the main house.
“So, we are next door neighbours now? Aiye fe pa re.” We chatted a little before I went into my place. It seemed weird that he would be in my estate and I felt that Seyi might have something to do with it and probably decided not to say anything to Tandi.
After that day, I did not see much of Tola. Tandi had been so angry with me last year when I told her how I acted towards him at the Ball and even asked me to pay her back for the dress she bought for me. Since then we called a Truce and she always informed me whenever he showed up at her place.
I dashed down to Tandi’s house at the weekend to inform her that Tola had moved into the Estate where I lived. I could have called her to give her the gist but I was dying to see the baby again. So I went to the Atofarati house without calling in advance. When I got there, to my utmost amazement and shock, Tola opened the door. He stepped back for me to come in and I did, I said a hello to him, he helloed right back but more or less dismissed me.
“Tandi!” I shouted when my friend finally showed up. I gave her a hug; I had missed her so much; being on maternity leave and all. I took the baby from her and she looked relieved.
“Sade, I am so glad you showed up unannounced. I have been so tired today and this young man is being a typical Atofarati boy. He has just been whining and whining like an old Volkswagen.” She said, laughing and sighing with relief.
I asked her to take a nap while I cuddled Jimi for a while. As I sat there rocking the baby, Tola sat opposite me, a glass of wine in his hands and his eyes trained on me as if I would drop the baby. I was so uncomfortable with his stares.
Seyi came to the living room and gave me a hug. I was about to sigh with relief but he asked “Sade, you remember Tola now?” I could see twinkles in his eyes so I knew that Seyi was up to some mischief.
“Yes. I do.” My goal was to talk less, and be as polite as possible.
“I thought that you guys would hit it together. I had this sixth sense that you were made for each other.” He added some pepper to the whole injury going on.
Tola laughed. “Your sixth sense failed you terribly” he said. “I am glad I got saved at the last minute.”
“Please o, I don’t want trouble o. If Tandi wakes up and hears me cause trouble, I wouldn’t get enough sleep tonight and I don’t want to be on baby watch.” Seyi said trying to douse down sparks that he ignited.
The conversation ended and I just concentrated on rocking baby Jimi. Seyi and Tola chatted on. I took the time to study Tola. He was growing some mustache that I hated. He looked more handsome though. I was able to pick up on some things he was doing. He happened to have started a business on his own and he was sharing how he was combining the running of that business with his day job as an IT person. I felt bad at the way I treat him at the ball and afterwards but I did not know how to make amends. A simple sorry would do, Tandi had told me later when we talked about it. Later in the evening before I left, I tried to apologize to him but he just looked at me, shook his head and muttered some words I couldn’t decipher.
A month later, there was a beach party that Sly and I were invited to. Sly was with his friends gossiping away while I sat, reclined, on a wooden chair, reading my favorite novel, scarlet thread, by Francine Rivers. I was tearing up at the break-up scene and all of a sudden I found Tola next to me, on a reclined chair that looked like mine.
“Novels make you cry?” He asked.
I looked at him wearily, “Not all, this one does. It’s a break up scene.” I was tired of figuring out how he would show up everywhere I went. He was probably friends with one of the other guys and got an invitation.
He raised his eyebrows, and said, “Apology accepted by the way.”
I was shocked. I just nodded and turned back to my book but I was not reading anything. I was processing everything that was happening to me.
“That wasn’t me.” I said after a while.
“I am discovering so too. Tandi told me about you. The person she described was a very sweet person and Seyi corroborated her story.” He held a newspaper and was going through it. He turned his head to me to look at me. I tried not to look at him.
“Ehnnn!” I said, unintelligibly. I was thinking of how to strangle Tandi. I just hoped that she did not give him details about my breakup.
“So, was it me that brought that out in you? Did I do something to make you act that way? Were you going through a bad time?” He asked, suddenly looking exasperated.
I looked at him. “It wasn’t about you. You were a perfect gentleman.” I said, “Except of course when you called me ‘Ratchet’”
“Okay. It was great chatting with you. Let me leave before lover boy comes over to kick my ass.” Tola said and he walked away, shaking his derriere. I laughed out loud. What a man. He was definitely a fun person.
I was glad we had cleared the air. I felt lighter and more at peace. It was not in me to treat people like I treated him.
By a stroke a fate we exchanged numbers when we met again at the Estate supermarket and even hung out a few times. Sometimes, we would meet at the Estate recreation park and chat away. We became fast friends and I was so comfortable with him but uncomfortable with the relationship as it grew because it was taking on a life of its own and I needed to control the situation. Sly had even met up with us on one occasion while we sat on a bench in front of my mini-flat chatting away. I had to introduce him properly to Sly.
Two weeks later, I recalled the message that was shared during the fellowship I attended on Sunday evenings in a neighbor’s house. My parents always made us all to attend the fellowship since we were little and I went along with it. The message that was preached was about being truthful especially when it was not convenient. I thought about my relationship with Sly. He was a great guy and I wanted things to work well for us. Tola was always coming around and I felt that I had deceived Sly by not mentioning that we had met before and what transpired. Since Tola was going to be a part of my life, I needed to be clean and open about everything.
Tola knocked on my door to drop a package Tandi sent to me. I could see his discomfort when he came in; Sly was there. When I had a chance to talk to Tola alone, I told him that it was best to come clean with Sly about meeting him before that day at the restaurant.
“Honestly, I do not think that it is necessary but if you want, it’s up to you.” He responded.
I decided to tell Sly right there and then.
“Hey Sly, I have something to say to you.” I said to Sly.
Sly looked confused, looking from Tola to me and then back to Tola. I looked at Tola. He was dropping the package on a stool in my little parlour.
“So, last year, I went for a Ball; Tola was my date to the Ball. Tandi’s husband just paired us up so that I could go because a date was required.” I finished. Tola stared at me, his eyes warning me. I did not know what he was trying to communicate but I just could not tell the whole story.
“Was it that time you mentioned that you broke up with your last boyfriend?” Sly asked. He was very intuitive and had a good memory. I loved that attribute in him but I hated it at the moment.
“Wait what?” Tola got up from his seat, “You broke up with your boyfriend? Now I understand. You were not nice at all. I never felt so insulted in my entire life. So that was what happened.” Tola faced me; folding his arms.
I didn’t like the turn of events. The conversation was going out of my hands. I was the one confessing. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut like he asked me to.
“She was really heartbroken. The guy kind of hardened her heart a little because she could sometimes be harsh with me also.” Sly said, apparently comfortably with the whole conversation.
Tola was still staring at me, “So you were acting out your pain, ready to kill all the men in town.”
I shrugged, “I guess so. But I’ve apologized and we’ve all moved on nicely.” I looked at Sly and he was nodding his head.
Tola did not let it go, his voice raised by a decibel “why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t the Atofaratis tell me this? I would have understood and be more gentle or at least sensitive to how you were feeling.” He was actually getting emotional about this.
I looked at Tola and tried to signal to him and ask him ‘what are you doing?’ with my eyes but he just was seeing beyond my face or something.
“I asked them not to. I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me. I was mad at the world and I wanted to stay mad.” I snapped at him.
“Come here.” He said. I looked at him as if he was going mad. He pulled me into a hug and my body was tingling like it would explode. When we separated, I looked at Sly but he just looked at us and said, “Well, the story ends well. No more anger between you too.” I started to think that Sly was going crazy. If someone was hugging your girl the way Tola hugged me, your heart meter should shout “code red”. I made Tola leave the house.
Later that night, I was lying on my bed going over the conversation I had with Tandi earlier. I told her the event that transpired that afternoon with Sly and Tola and how confused I was. Yes, I was so confused about Sly and his lackadaisical attitude towards our relationship. I realized now that I was the one always driving our relationship. I pushed him to ask me to be his girlfriend and I was going to talk him into marrying me.
Tola on the other hand was a different human being all together. I liked his personality except when he starts to act all super-confident and overtly bold. It had been a few months of Tola coming back into my life and I felt like I had known him for a really long time. I had no idea how Tola crept into my heart. Maybe it was just a soft spot.
As I lay down, my phone buzzed. I squeezed my eyes shut when I found out that it was Tola. I finally summed up the courage to read the text that came in on my whatsApp.
“I told you not to tell him. Everything has changed now. Can you deal with it?”
“Why not. What has change? Absolutely nothing.” I texted back.
Next he sent me a picture. When I opened it, I was staring at an amazing picture that spoke volumes. The picture we took at the ball. I looked like a diva and he looked like my lover. I burst into tears.
“Delete the picture, please.” I wrote to him.
“Never.” He wrote back. And I did not hear from him again for a while.
To be continued!