“I think we should see, there’s something we need to talk about.” My heart stopped for a bit but I calmly said “Just go right ahead and tell me over the phone. We are having a baby, aren’t we?”
“Yes.” She said in a timid voice. One word, so final. For a few seconds I mentally laughed at the irony. The one girl I had sworn never to see again was going to be in my life for the rest of my life! Life sure had a sense of humour.
“What do you want to do?” She asked me.
“To be honest, I have no idea what I want but I do know what I don’t want; a child right now. That’s something I do not want.” Not altogether a lie, just not the full truth.
I had met her on a flight and we had got talking. We met up after the flight and relieved the tension we had built up all day. We met a few more times after that.
In typical human fashion, it was while lying there on one of those meetings, waiting for the embers to fully die out, that it occurred to me that she was not really my ‘kind’ of girl. I resolved not to see her again.
“Me neither,“ she said again in that small voice. “My mother’ll kill me! She wouldn’t understand me and an Ibo boy.“
One week and a few thousand naira later the deed was done, that bond severed.
That was five years ago.
In the years since, I met, through a shared circle of friends on a Blackberry group, Banke.
From the get go it was clear that Banke and me, we understood each other very well. We laughed at the same things, pursued the same train of thoughts, and brewed mischief in the group regularly. Before we met, I told her we could not possibly go out in public together because we were sure to get beaten up for mischief. It freaked me out sometimes, almost as if she could read my mind. She even finished some of my sentences; this was good because it meant I did not have to ‘fully open my mouth’ to communicate with her when chatting in the group; almost as if we had a language solely our own.
Finally, we decided to meet. It was over lunch. Careful not to make a wrong second first impression, I wore a button down long-sleeved shirt, the sleeves of which I rolled to just below my elbow. The cream coloured shirt was tucked into a pair of blue jeans, and I completed my ensemble with a pair of tan deck shoes. I also got a haircut.
I did not wait long at the restaurant before she walked in. It was a barbecue and grills place, 3 Cousins and a Crook. I went into the ‘den’, I did not want to take the chance of missing her arrival if I sat outside. I sat facing the door and scanned every face that walked in. When her shadow darkened the doorway, I just knew. I half rose to greet her.
We went to place our order with one of the cousins before going outside to enjoy the sea breeze and the view. We watched two men on jet skis zip around.
We talked about this and that, and when the food and drinks came, we carried on talking.
I talked for two reasons: I found her mentally stimulating, and I found her visually stimulating too!
She had on a short black and yellow print gown with a plunging neckline. The plunge was just enough to help me visualise the promise that laid beneath. Walking from the den outside, I had let her walk in front of me… Let us just say, I liked the way she rolled it. She had a gold anklet on her left foot, and a pair of flat gold slippers. The first time I looked her squarely in the face, she was looking right back at me, and I was afraid she could see my thoughts. So I avoided eye contact and talked nineteen to the dozen; she made it really easy for me.
The drinks became warm, and the food cold. The grease of the prawns congealed, so too the sausages, and still we talked.
It was the gathering of dusk, and the realisation of just how hard it was going to be to get all the way across state lines to my place that made us leave.
We fell into a comfortable pattern of phone conversations, chats and the odd movie or breakfast/lunch/dinner dates.
And then she invited me to a family event. One of her younger sisters was getting married.
I was sitting at a table with some of our friends at the reception when I felt someone standing behind me.
I turned at the sound of my name.
“Ahhh…” was all I could say. Then the laughter came.
Standing over me was Remi, from all those years ago. Even if she was not dressed in the bride’s aso ebi, there would have been no mistaking the relationship.
She had the same caramel skin and high forehead as Banke. Her eyes were close-set where Banke’s were spacious but the arch of their brows was the same. She had a pinched nose unlike the tiny knob on Banke’s face. She had thin lips, compared to Banke’s full lips, but they curved the same when they smiled, with enough radiance to light up a room.
How I never saw the resemblance beats me.
“Franque, it’s really you! What are you doing at my sister’s wedding? You… You just fashied me…”
I kicked back my chair and got up. Taking her by the elbow, I guided her towards on of the exits, away from the hall.
“How have you been?” I asked her. ” I am sorry about how things went down between us…”
“I wasn’t sure you even remembered me, but I could never forget you. You broke my heart, but what was worse was the shabby way you treated me. You left me to go through all that alone! For days and nights I cried, but I could never bring myself to curse you. I somehow knew I was going to see you again, and I was hoping you would be crossing the road so I could knock you down!”
“Haba!” I exclaimed. “Knock me down ke? To reunite me with our baby fast fast, abi? I am getting you.” Her last sentence was not spoken with vehemence, so I knew I had to stay apologetic and turn on a little charm and I would be home and dry.
“So, what are you doing at my sister’s wedding?” She asked again.
“Banke invited me.”
At this, her eyes narrowed.
“No o! It’s not like that.” I rushed to explain. “You see all the people at that table? We are all friends. We belong to a bb group together.”
“If you say so. Na u sabi.” She did not sound fully convinced. “Abeg lemme return you to your friends before they think … Never mind.”
“Man eater!” I teased her before drawing my right index finger down the bridge of her nose. She giggled and playfully swatted my hand away. I knew I was forgiven.
I stayed back after the reception to help them sort out the gifts, and a few other items. I met the rest of the family then.
Weeks passed and, though I did not frequent their house, every time I visited, Banke made sure to remind her mother that I was that young man who helped out at the wedding – whatever that meant.
A month ago I was visiting, and was chatting on my bb so I did not pay attention to what their mother was discussing with Banke. It was not until she asked “what do you think Franque?” that I realised she was not just talking to her daughter.
“Sorry, what was that ma’am?” I asked embarrassed.
Someone had approached her with a business proposal and she was interested. I asked to see the paperwork; I was just going to look it over and give a noncommittal response. The first thing I noticed was that the figures did not add up. I looked everything over thoroughly, and the more I read, the clearer it became that this was an elaborate scam. Some of the claims were bogus, and the figures, I always came back to the figures.
I drove her round to one of the addresses listed on the letterhead – it was non-existent. When she called the number she had for the business, her contact picked it up and claimed he was at the office, but when we said we were on the street and needed proper directions to the office, he hurriedly hung up. Further tries told us the phone was switched off.
On the drive home, she told me how the person who had tried to swindle her had been like a son to her. He and Banke had dated some years before, and he was still considered a member of the family. When we got home, before we alighted from the car, Banke’s mother asked where I was from, asked for my full name and then said almost wistfully “I wish I had you as my son.”
How I did not laugh there and then, I can never tell. This was the same mother Remi had said would kill her if she brought home an Igbo boy.
As soon as we got into the house, I handed the car keys to Banke and quickly bailed. She told me her mother had been hurt when she came out and learned I did not even stay for lunch.
“Please thank her for me, and make my apologies. I had an appointment on that day and I was running late.”
Just last week I had asked Banke about her mother.
“She’s in the hospital o,” she told me.
“Old age really, but it presented as heart palpitations. She’s been in hospital since last night.”
“I should swing by today to see her,” I did not promise.
I did go to see her with Banke. She told us how nice the doctor and nurses had been to her. According to Banke, she was looking a whole lot better than she had in the preceding weeks.
“See how you and Banke look like you are siblings,” Mrs Ogunmoyero said. “Or hasn’t anyone ever told you so?”
I just smiled and squirmed where I sat.
We stayed for about 15 minutes before we left to allow her rest; the longest 15 minutes of my life. I held the door open for Banke. She had stepped out of the room when her mother called for me to stay. I pushed the door to before returning to the middle of the room.
“My son, how have you been?” She asked.
“Good. Sebi it’s till next year before we see you again?” She had a look in her eyes.
“No ma’am,” I was suddenly very hot under the collar.
“Are you sure?” She held my eyes.
“Yes ma’am,” I looked away.
“Alright then, my son. Take good care of yourself o.”
I smiled and nodded and bowed myself out of the room.
“What did you and mommy discuss?” Banke asked me.
“Oh, she just wanted to know how I have been managing.” I said and then started to whistle tunelessly to Fela’s ‘Wahala’.
One week has passed, one week I have spent avoiding the Ogunmoyeros, There is my history with Remi. There is my friendship with Banke. And then, there is their mother’s not-so-well-veiled expectations. What is a man to do?