The night I met her was the same night I met them both.
I had been invited to dinner at a swank restaurant on the Island and, having that day free, I accepted the invitation.
I am yet to understand the concept of African time. I understand that we cannot all be on time for appointments and engagements, but being over fifteen minutes late, in my book, is not fashionably late; and not calling to advice that one would be running late is just plain disrespectful – in my books.
So there I sat with my host, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the rest of the gang to arrive. When they eventually did, I saw I was in the company of a record label CEO with his partners, a radio on air personality(OAP), a celebrity stylist, an upcoming actress and her agent/manager, and a few other young entrepreneurs; I was in the company of young achievers; I was in the company of the future. I would have been , I should have been , but their seeming lack of respect for time had shown them for what they really were: human first.
During dinner, my host and the actress’ manger teamed up to ‘hook me up’, as I was between relationships at the time, and after scouting the table who would they settle on but the actress?
I started the evening sitting between my host and the manager, across from the OAP but after the meals, the guys were rotated and I found myself sitting between the OAP and the actress. The OAP was quite a chatterbox, and the actress, she had this wary aloofness about her as if she was expecting me to pounce or make a move if given half a chance. She did not know me. I turned my back to her and gave the OAP my full attention – even though my ear was ringing from her shrill voice and plenty chatter.
The next time I saw her, I was visiting the CEO at his studio and she was there to visit. We finally talked, and after that, we talked fairly regularly. I got invited to the Bay by her manager and I cleared my schedule that Sunday for a chance to see her again. We talked, played games, drank and went for a long walk, this actress and I. During our long walk on the beach she talked about how she wished she wasn’t a celebrity, if only so she could do whatever she wanted, or kiss whoever she wanted without recourse to what people would think.
That there was an invite, if ever I heard one, but I passed it up.
Then it was her birthday, and after learning she had never been to a proper dinner, I fixed to take her to one. We dressed up for it: me in pants and a jacket; she/her in a tube dress that stopped just above her knee and showed off her figure, high heeled shoes and a clutch purse. Dinner was mellow, the food was nice and the conversation light. We enjoyed each other’s company so much, the restaurant was ready to close before we realized how much time had passed.
Unable to get her a cab at that hour, I offered to drop her off in my cab – I had the cab wait for me. She accepted on the condition that I promised not to grope her. As if!
A week later we went to see a movie when she commented on my seeming love for shoes. I joked about it and said I was not much of a shoe guy, but I had to break in that shoe in readiness for my wedding the next year. “But I am not ready to marry anytime soon,” she said.
“That works just fine for me then, ‘cos I wasn’t talking about you.” I told her with a smile.
She rounded on me so fast my eyes spun. “So what are you doing with me then? What are we doing here?” She asked me.
“Today, we are here to see a movie. Tomorrow, I have no idea…” I let it trail off. The rest of the movie was finished in silence.
I called up her manager to talk about it only to find she was in a fragile state herself. Her relationship was about to go bye-bye. Without thinking about it, I became some sort of emotional pillar for her. I would call her just to check up on her, meet up and hang out with her, even took her to the movies a couple of times. It was at one of such movies that we exchanged our first kiss.
The years have passed and it is a lot of water under the bridge, but while I am still friends with the actress, her agent/manager is a different kettle of fish. She started with the avoidance game, then I got tired of trying to save a doomed friendship, or whatever else -ship. In the years that have passed I have had a son, the best thing that has happened to me yet. I have learnt a lot along the way and this would-be triangle came with a lesson all its own. It brought home closer than ever the Yoruba saying: “Ologbo ti o ba’n le eku meji, a pa ofo”, loosely translated to mean “The cat that chases after two rats will end up empty-handed.”
PS: His earliest memory is of waiting. Whenever he tried to think back to the beginning, it was always to that moment of waiting. His siblings were huddled on the sofa, and their uncle who was baby-sitting paced the floor of the living room, looking glum.
In that instant he knew.
He had fallen asleep waiting for Papa to return from work so that they could share his meal. It is not that he had not eaten, he had, but the ‘taste’ of Papa’s food was always better. It was not so much the taste, but the tiny pieces of fish or meat Papa shared with him.
Unlike Mama, Papa never insisted on him finishing his meal before eating meat. He knew Papa was not coming back. Not today, not ever again.
“I wan chop,” he said simply. Then he sat on the floor and waited. He was served a cup of lukewarm Ovaltine, and a thick slice of fresh bread with a spread of Planta margarine.
That was thirty years ago, yesterday. Now he is grown with a boy of his own. Amazingly yesterday, he woke up hungry. On the 30th anniversary of my father’s passing, I woke up hungry, and thankful for Mama, and the life I have had since.