D-day finally came. The day of Jimi’s return home. January 28th, 2012.
The frenzied way Mama Jay had been readying the chalet attached to their house, you would have thought they were expecting royalty.
“The Crown Prince is coming home!” Seyi had said to me, a few days before Jimi’s arrival, as we sat in the garden, watching work men move furniture in and out of the adjoining bungalow.
“Mom has probably had that place painted five times in the last couple of weeks…trying to get the place ‘just right for Jimi.” Seyi said, with a sardonic smile. “The classic case of the Prodigal Son, huh?!”
I laughed and shook my head. “If any one of you is to be referred as prodigal, that wouldn’t be Jimi!”
“Ouch! Touche, Fola!” he laughed, feigning physical pain.
Even though it was shrouded under jokes, I understood Seyi’s pain. It had been almost six years since he’d been bundled back to Nigeria. Upon his return, the only fuss had probably been to sweep his old bedroom and change the bedsheets. There had been no fanfare…no pomp nor pageantry. But with his older brother’s return to Nigeria, the entire house was being given a face lift, with the chalet Seyi had been refused when he’d asked to move there, being refurbished for Jimi.
I knew it had to hurt.
Save for the brief episode with marijuana the year before, Seyi had kicked his drug habit, and was living an exemplary life. He earned a good living as a banker, and he had made his parents his priority at the expense of his social life. He had also successfully re-entered his daughter, Erin’s life, and not only spoke with her frequently, but sent enough money to the her in the U.S., to ensure she was well taken care off. Seyi had been the perfect son these last six years.
But he was being cast aside, like an old coin, upon his brother’s return.
On the day of Jimi’s arrival, I’d declined accompanying Rire and my former in-laws to the airport. As happy as I was that Jimi was back in Nigeria, I didn’t want to appear too eager. He was still engaged, besides. So, I made the most of having the house to my house, since Rire was determined to spend that first night with his father.
The next day was a Sunday, so after Church, I set off for my in-laws’ place, as Rire and I usually did after Church. Walking into the house, upon seeing Jimi, my face broke into a large smile…but Jimi’s response was cool, at best.
“Hello Fola.” had been his own stiff greeting, as he walked right past me, with nary a wave nor a hug.
I watched him walk by, my mouth open, wondering what the heck that was all about. Making a mental note to ignore him, if that was how he wanted to act, I went ahead to exchange the usual pleasantries with Daddy and Mama Jay. I watched from the corner of my eye as Jimi mingled with some of his friends, who’d heard he was back in town and had come visiting. With them, he was his usual self, talking and laughing with them in true Jimi’s fashion.
“So, I hear you’ve changed your name.” he said, walking up to me after dinner, startling me.
I looked at him, my own initial excitement over his return having dissipated like diffused smoke. “My name changed when our divorce was finalized in 2004. I only just got around to the documentation.”
He’d nodded slowly, and I couldn’t tell if what I said made sense to him…or if he was just being sarcastic.
“You also took off your ring.” he said, observing my empty ring finger.
I raised a brow, surprised he had even noticed. “Don’t you think it’s about time? That ring was getting in the way of my love life.”
Jimi guffawed. “Love life?! You? Well, good luck with that!”
As he walked away, I felt my blood boil in rage. I was so angry, I was tempted to throw my shoe at him…both feet even. How dare he scoff at the thought of me dating?
But he wasn’t done getting under my skin yet.
Before Rire and I left for our house, he pulled me aside. “We need to discuss the financial arrangement you’ve had with my parents.” he said, as we were seated at the dining table. “My mother told me how much you get every month, and frankly, I think it’s too much!”
My eyes widened in horror, the reality of what he was saying slapping me in the face.
“It’s not easy, or cheap, raising a growing child!” I answered, defiant.
“I’m not disputing that. And I can assure you that I don’t want to compromise my son’s quality of life in any way. But now that I’m back home, I have to take over that cost now. I’m 37 years old…I can’t allow my parents keep on paying my way for me.” he’d answered.
“So, what are you saying?” I asked, trying to understand what he was implying.
“I’m saying that there will be no open, limitless cheque anymore. What you will have is a credit card, attached to my own account. This will help me monitor, and approve, all expenses.”
For the second time that night, I found myself getting so angry, I could scream. The allowance I got from my former in-laws was generous enough to take care of Rire’s needs, with some decent change for me. How else could I have survived on my very low salary?! I cursed, as I made a mental note to return the shoes I’d just picked from a friend of mine. If I only had money for Rire’s needs, I wouldn’t be able to afford my little luxuries and extravagances.
That was how Jimi disrupted our lives, in one fell swoop. By the end of that week, he’d decided to change Rire’s school after the end of the current 2nd term.
“He’s writing his Junior Secondary School Examinations next year. He needs the right kind of preparation, and this bubble gum school he’s in now won’t prepare him well enough!” Jimi had stated, matter of fact. “What was your criteria for choosing this school anyway? Did you even check out the school’s performance in major exams?”
I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that had been the last factor on my mind, when I was making the decision. Instead, cost, proximity to home, and how cute the kids looked in their school blazer and bowler hat, had been the deciding factor for me. By the time school broke for the Easter holidays at the end of March, Rire already had his admission in one of the top secondary schools in the Nigerian league table. The irony was that it was about three times as expensive as his former school. But I guess that was one cost Jimi didn’t mind!
Getting to the school for the parents interview, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Head Teacher of the new school, frequented our church, who was very friendly with Rire and I.
“Mrs. Fajobi! What a pleasant surprise! Welcome to our great school!” she had beamed, obviously proud of her establishment.
I leaned forward. “I’m no longer Mrs. Fajobi, Ma!” I said quietly. “I’m now Ms Ige. But you can call me Fola.”
The woman looked even more confused, as she digested the news.
“I’m Mr. Fajobi!” Jimi said, holding up his hand, with more than a healthy dose of sarcasm.
I glared at him. “Regardless of our names, we are both Rire’s parents, and are very interested to know what the school has to offer!”
That seemed to do the trick.
As if I didn’t have enough on my plate, I still had to deal with Dolly’s incessant hounding, about being reconnected with him.
“Dolly…Jimi is engaged.” had become something of a mantra for me…something I told her with more urgency and emergency each time.
“That has never stopped me before now, and you know it!” she answered, with a cocky smile on her face.
I looked at her in pity. Yes, she was a glamazon, and yes, at size 16, she wasn’t the biggest in the land anymore, but she was a far, far cry from her glory days.
“I’m sure if he knows I’m available, he’ll see me!” had been her over confident response.
Looking at Dolly, my sister, I could tell her desperation had less to do with being reconnected with Jimi…and more to do with the fact that there was a vacuum in the life. Over the last month especially, her toasters in the U.K. had started withdrawing one-by-one. There were no more cash gifts, no more nothing! And Dolly was getting desperate.
That Saturday, as Rire and I were going through his books, Clairice, Jimi’s fiancé, decided to call Rire. As they chatted on the phone, I found myself feeling envious of her, not just because she had snagged my one-time love, Jimi, but because of the growing affection I could tell my son, Rire, had for her.
“Clairice wants to say hello, Mom!” Rire had said to me, hanging the phone to me.
I glared at the phone as if it was poison ivy, before collecting it from. “Hello Clairice!” I said, trying to sound as chirpy as I could manage. “How are you preparing for your own move?”
“I’m really looking forward it!” she squealed. “I’ll be there sometime in May, just to get to know everyone better. But I won’t move finally until after the wedding.”
I nodded, hoping our conversation was over.
“Fola, I just want to say I admire you for being so strong. I know it’s not easy being a single mom! Two of my sisters are, and they’re not coping quite as well as you are.” came her own surprising statement. “Despite the fact that your co-parent was thousands of miles away, you still managed to make it look easy!”
I was stunned into silence for a few seconds, wondering where this angle of conversation had come from. “I won’t take all the credit for that. Jimi’s family has been great, and now that he’s back in Nigeria, it makes things even easier.”
“You two are really, really impressive! I don’t think I’ve seen people co-parent as well as you both have. Especially considering the circumstances of how you got married.”
Now she had my full attention.
“What circumstances?” I asked, curious to know what she had been told.
“That the only reason you two got married was because of…you know…the pregnancy.” she answered.
I felt all the blood drain from my body, head down. “Was that what he told you?”
“Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry. I feel like I’ve put my foot in my mouth…” Clairice stuttered, obviously embarrassed.
“Oh no, no. Not at all!” I assured her. “You are so correct. It’s true. The only reason we got married was…” I had to hold my tongue, as Rire was within earshot, “…was because of that…”
Long after the phone conversation was over, I sat in my bedroom pondering it. Was that what had really happened? Had Jimi only married me because I was pregnant? Were all his reassurances over the years nothing but lies?
Despite wanting to ignore it, I couldn’t help but pick up the phone to find out.
“Yes, Fola.” came his voice, stiff and cold, the way it had been since his return.
I wasn’t about to waste any time with pleasantries. “Did you tell Clairice that the only reason we got married was because I was pregnant.”
“Yes.” he answered, without hesitation. “Isn’t that the reason?”
I sank in my pillow, my heart wounded. It was one thing to have had that innermost fear for the last 12 years. But to hear Jimi confirm that, truly, he had never really loved me as he’d said he had, that the only reason he had married me was because of circumstance, broke my heart into a million tiny pieces.
“Is there anything else?” he asked.
“No, nothing.” I answered, my voice barely a whisper. “I just wanted to confirm, that’s all”
“Was I wrong, Fola?” Jimi asked, his voice suddenly probing. “Isn’t that the reason why we did marry?”
I cleared my throat, determined not to break down. “No, you’re right. You’re very correct.”
But after the phone call ended, I had given way to my tears, heartbroken that I had lived in fantasy land for 12 years, and was still deceiving myself with the dream that we would reunite one day.
We were clearly over.
I spent the rest of that week in a sore mood, trying to be cheerful only for Rire’s sake. Until that day I was driving, and I got the annoying text from him.
I just got a debit alert for N50,000. What was that for?
Ah yes, the joys of a funded debit card. Jimi gave me the card, to take care of any impromptu payments, I couldn’t even sneeze from that card without his antenna standing at alert!
Club Fees, I texted back, angry over having to explain every thing to him.
Every term? his own text had come back.
I contemplated sending him a lengthy epistle, asking why he hadn’t properly researched the new school and all its required fees, before uprooting Rire from his old one, but decided against it, as I was in no mood for the argument from hell.
Yes, had been my own curt reply.
As I made to put my phone down, another text dropped, this time from my older sister, Dolapo, aka Dolly.
I need a quick loan. Can you spare 100k?
I frowned, reading her message, thinking about the numerous other ‘loans’ she was yet to repay. But I was angrier at myself, as I knew I would end up giving her, even after all my grumbling.
Before I could even reply her, she sent another text;
By the way, have you spoken with Jimi?
I froze reading that text, realizing her request hadn’t been a joke. Realising she really expected me to hook her up with my ex-husband. I thought about sending her a stinker, to ask what kind of Jerry Springer situation she thought we were in. I imagined how Adun would hit the roof, if she found out we were even having this conversation.
But considering Jimi hadn’t married me for love, Dolly might as well have herself another go.
I’ll send him your number tonight. I texted back.
Getting to work, I was still in a sombre mood when Wonu, one of my colleagues at work, came over to my desk.
“Is everything okay, Fola? You haven’t been yourself all week?” she remarked.
I shrugged, managing a small smile. “Just having a rough week, that’s all.”
Wonu touched my arm in sympathy. “Why don’t you come out for drinks, with the girls and I? It will make you feel better.”
I looked at Wonu, and for the first time since she and the rest of my young colleagues had been asking me to hang out with them, I was tempted. The thing with starting again in my career was that my ‘peers’ were all younger than me. At 34, I had at least 8 years on Dunni and her crew. But whilst I was always quick to brush them aside in the past, for the first time, I found myself thinking why not?! What did I have to lose anyway?!
“You know…that sounds like a great idea!” I heard myself saying.
To hell with Fola…and Dolly…and Clairice!
I was determined to live my life for me!!!
Sister, Sister returns on Wednesday, May 31st, 2017
You can catch up on Fola’s story here:
- Sister, Sister 1: Calling Me Mrs.
- Sister, Sister 2: The Odd Family
- Sister, Sister 3: Floating On Air
- Sister, Sister 4: The Many Wives of Jimi
- Sister, Sister 5: Russian Roulette
- Sister, Sister 6: So Much In Common
- Sister, Sister 7: An Unlikely Pair
- Sister, Sister 8: Longing For Her
- Sister, Sister 9: The Return
- Sister, Sister 10: The Catastrophe
- Sister, Sister 11: Not Working
- Sister, Sister 12: Sham of a Marriage
- Sister, Sister 13: Invisible Strings
- Sister, Sister 14: Rehab
- Sister, Sister 15: Fall From Grace
- Sister, Sister 16: Reset Button
- Sister, Sister 17: Available…Unavailable
- Sister, Sister 18: Paradigm Shift