I met Simi in my last semester in KNUST, Ghana.
And seven years later I still think of him.
Our Song is “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones: I was listening to that when I walked out of my room and looked into his eyes for the first time. This was the song playing when I wished he would stop being so shy and kiss me, and again when I pretended to be asleep, when he said goodbye in the morning.
He was visiting friends at my school from his university in Cape Coast and because it was the end of the exam period that semester, most people were either out at some club or away in Accra, like my roommates that weekend. I was home alone, as usual. I had just showered and prepared for bed, and as I opened my windows to the cool evening air and popped in my favorite night time CD I heard voices out in the hallway. It was a predominantly Nigerian hostel, so I was happy there were other people in the ghostly dorm apart from me. I went out to say a quick hello to the guys lounging outside and that’s when I saw him, he was smiling, and he was the only stranger in the group. Someone introduced us and as soon as we started talking I forgot about everyone else around us. He must have too, because when it was time to leave for the club he asked his friends to go on without him. They ribbed him and teased us endlessly, and then it was just us.
It is amazing what you can learn about someone in eight hours. He was an Engineering student, with a strong passion for music. He had two brothers, and his mother was the love of his life. He thought it was really cool that I only wore watches made for men… I told him about my family back in Nigeria, my dreams of being a ghost-writer for someone famous, and I tried to cover up the fact that I was only 16, he really did not mind, he thought I seemed mature for my age, even though I looked like I was really 14. He was funny and smart and really cute and such a gentleman, and I remember wishing he would kiss me just once before the night was over. It was already morning when we decided to get some sleep, and judging by the fact that he was leaving to return to school that day, he had spent most of his trip with me instead of his friends. We talked about love briefly, and how it was impossible for us to be falling in love. It was crazy, right? We knew right away that we wanted to keep seeing each other. It would be difficult: he lived in Lagos and I lived in Port Harcourt and we were both leaving Ghana within a week. At the time I must have been the only university student in the world who did not own a cell phone, but I took his number and I promised to hook things up and keep in touch with him.
But then life happened. I lived in a really sheltered environment in those days, and it took a few weeks before I was able to get my own cell phone and call him. His mother answered the phone; she was really sweet as she informed me that he was in the UK on holiday with family friends. I promised myself I would try again, but weeks later my parents decided a change of schools was necessary for me and a few months later I was living a completely different life that had no room for him or anyone else. Still, something about that night touched me, and seven years later I still wonder about him…
Just the other day I was house cleaning, a chore I approach by first scattering the house before tidying things up from the ground up. When it came to cleaning out my CD stack, I saw some really old CDs and VCDs I had not listened to or watched in a really long time. One of those was Rugged Man’s music videos. As soon as my eyes fell on it, memories came flooding back.
The videos had been recommended by a girl I once knew, and on the night she told me about it, I hopped on a bike straight to Iyana Ipaja to get a copy – she was featured on one of the songs there.
I had met her on one of my trips to the UK. I first noticed her because she was the only female in business class on that flight, and being a night flight I usually prayed to find someone to talk with to help the night pass quickly, otherwise it was usually a struggle keeping awake, and sleep was not an option!
During the meal service I smiled a bit more warmly than I probably would have, testing the waters, she returned the smile and I knew she was at least going to be nice about it if she was going to blow me off. When after dinner the cabin lights were turned down to night mood – soft tones of indirect lighting – I noticed she had her reading light on so I went up to her and asked “Having difficulty sleeping?”
She looked up from the screen she had been staring at and smiled. “Yes, actually.”
“Would you like to come and sit with me at the bar and talk for a bit then?” I asked. “Give me a few minutes,” she said. True to her words she joined me at the bar a few minutes later and after offering her a drink we got talking.
We talked about anything, everything and nothing. I was taken by her looks which were not drop dead gorgeous, but warm and open. Her hair was braided like cords of rope and she let some fall forward, hiding her slightly prominent forehead. She had eyes that I can only describe as sleepy, but sleepy in an understated sexy way. When she spoke it was in a clear even pitched voice, and she had a ready smile. She had on a black, figure hugging long-sleeved top over really long skirt made from a green ankara material. I usually do not overly pay attention to what a woman is wearing – unless it makes my imagination work overtime – but her ensemble have stayed with me these past five years.
It turned out she had noticed me making my way, with the rest of the crew, through immigration and customs and had hoped for a chance to talk to me.
At the end of the flight we exchanged numbers and kept in touch. She was in school in the UK at the time and work took me to England at least twice a month, but I never once hooked up with her after that. I probably would have pursued a relationship with her, maybe I should because when I met her dad he seemed a cool cat.
He was on a flight of mine to the UK too and it was the surname that caught my attention. Later during the flight I mentioned to him how I had only recently flown a passenger bearing the same surname into the UK. He had smiled and said “That’ll be my daughter.” After that flight, at the hotel I called to let her know I was in town. Her first words to me were “I hear you met my Dad. I just got an sms from mom who said dad had called her to say that her daughter obviously made an impression on one of the attendants on his flight. How did you guys even get talking?”
“Your dad’s an alright guy,” I said.
“Yeah, I know,” she returned,” but he’s very protective of me and my brother.”
Some months later a lady was on my flight and she looked vaguely familiar. I could not shake the feeling that I had seen her before, so I checked the passenger manifest and it became clear to me. She had the same surname.
I went to offer her a pre-flight drink and took the opportunity to confirm my suspicions.
She took the offered drink, turned to look me over and smiled. “You must be Franque,” she said, and all I could do was check if my name badge was showing through my dark grey jacket.
A colleague who had seen the exchange asked what that was all about. When I told him, he said he knows the family name and that they were shareholders in the company. That was like being doused with cold water.
I just kept thinking of how my life would turn out if I ever hurt her, even inadvertently, and word got home. One thing was for sure, I would be unemployable in all of Nigeria at least!
After that trip, I let the miles come between us and slowly but surely we drifted apart.
Five years later watching the video, a wry smile plays across my lips and I cannot but wonder what would have happened, how my life would have turned out if I had held on and walked down that path with her; where the path would have led.
There was really only one radio station everyone listened to back in the day, and that was where I first heard her voice.
We got introduced one random evening just before she knocked off. I had been visiting my oldest sister, Big Mama, who lived in the area.
That evening we talked about so many different things that by the time I dragged myself home, it felt as if I had known her for years! Every chance I got, I returned to the radio premises and hung about in the hope I would see her; sometimes I did, and other times I did not. At some point, if she had asked me to jump off the 3rd mainland bridge, I most likely would have done it while hoping that I would fly. Yet the word love was never raised between us.
One Valentine’s eve, she worked the late night shift so she could knock off at 5am and go with me to the bus park as I was leaving for school on Valentine’s day.
She was seeing someone at the time and thought she had my emotions all figured out; she sent me a round-about message about keeping them in check as allowing them run free would only end up in heartbreak for me. I felt insulted.
When the guy she was seeing left her to go and marry his Visa Lottery fiancee without so much as a fare-thee-well, it was my arms that held her frame that was daily wracked by sobs; my shirt that absorbed the tears that flowed freely; my shoulder that held up her drooping head, and by that, her drooping spirit. She never got over him, but she learned to be happy again.
The first night I stayed over at her place, I did not sleep a wink – and that is saying a lot considering how much I love my night sleep. We threw cushions on the floor and she gave me a wrapper, more to protect me from mosquitoes than to ward off the cold.
I dared not toss nor turn, just laid there rigid, my breathing irregular. I wanted to pull her close, I had always held her in my arms, craddled her against my chest, but I knew tonight would be different. Will she turn into my arms? Will she toss me out on my ear? Will she let me stay, but after issuing me a stern warning? Did she even think of me that way? My mind was assailed by these questions.
When the cocks finally crowed, I was aching all over and my eyes were red-rimmed and had bags, we smiled at each other and I went home.
I left for youth service two years later, and it was then that she dated someone so close to me as to be family.
When things went south between them I was in faraway Kano, but when I did return, I held her hands and walked with her till she was ready to love again. She chose someone else, and I did same.
Here we are ten years later, in and out of relationships wearing our battle scars proudly, and still single. We agree our time had passed; we had our chance and we blew it. Not even the Adjustment Bureau can help us and we both know this, but walking through the Palms blowing discordant notes on our whistle sweets we had bought from Shoprite, my head cannot but wonder what could have been. I do not dwell on the past much, but still every once in a while, the mind will wander…
We were friends for six years. Just friends.
That’s what we told everybody, and I think we even believed it ourselves.
For two people who were just friends we spent a lot of time together, we talked all the time, we were always holding hands and acting like we were madly in love. We had a lot of adventures too. I remember his car getting stuck in a sea of mud one night as he drove me back to my off-campus residence. Instead of panicking, he popped in a CD, called his mechanic friend and we just sat there talking and laughing at the hilarious situation. That was us, when we were together, we were happy. I think we thought we had forever.
It was my first year at the University of Jos as an Economics major, and he was a second-year student in my department. I was asked during that first semester to sit on the awards committee for the end of year banquet and from that first meeting when I laid eyes on him, we were inseparable. It was no secret that we were crazy about each other, but we were both single and it seemed a good thing to just let things take their natural course. I will never forget how he was there for me when my baby brother died, and that was when I decided that he could be the one. But life happened again, and three short months after I got an irresistible offer to study at a great school in the US. I stalled and spent as much time as I could in Nigeria, leaving for Europe right after his birthday, and then to the US for school.
For three years we managed to maintain a really strong bond, and while it was easy for me to balance my relationship with him with the other developing relationships in my life, he was having a hard time. I will never forget how my heart shattered when he asked for us to take a small break, for him to get used to the fact that we were not ‘together’ and make a real commitment to the new girl he was dating. It was the worst breakup in history, for two people who were never really dating. During my visit to Abuja in January, he picked me up from my friend’s place where I was spending the week and we went to Café 24 to watch our favorite team Arsenal play another mediocre game. It was my last day in the city, and in a few days I would be returning to the US. He reminded me again that I was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen and right there I was tempted to cross the unspoken line between us…
That was the last time I ever saw him. He died in a car crash two months ago.
I have many stories like these, of men who I have met who have left a genuine, long-lasting impression on my not-so-impressionable heart. Sometimes, a fleeting memory crosses my mind, or I hear a song, and I remember something or everything about them and wonder how my life would have been different if we had seized the moment and really taken a determined step towards building a relationship together. Because in that moment, each one of them was perfect for me. Of course, we all grow up and change and maybe things would have ended anyway, maybe even badly. But the uncertainty, that “What If?” feeling that I get sometimes, it makes me wonder which one of them was The One.
I like to think that I am a practical person. I never live in the past, there’s simply no time in my present for looking back. But I think that most of us look back at the choices we have made or the choices that were made for us by fate and try to envision a different life altogether, wondering somewhere deep down if we are truly where we are supposed to be. Everyone tells me that the life I have now is the best life I could possibly have, and the past is just the brick road I walked on to get here. But still I wonder.
PS: This DUEt was co-written with one of the brightest writers I have the honour of knowing, Dami. For more ‘Dami’, do visit www.3ofusnuts.blogspot.com