My first inclination had been to duck for cover.
Upon seeing Jimi on the other side of the field, my very instinct had been to crouch behind the person standing in front of me, on the uniform collection line. I couldn’t face him…not after what Dolly had done. I didn’t know how I would look him in the face, after Dolly had pretty much shamed our whole family. Even though it had been almost six months since we’d left Unilag, Dolly’s gist was still pretty much everywhere. People still found it hard to fathom that Dolly, sweet goody two shoes Dolly, had ended up an aristo babe and, perhaps worse, hadn’t graduated after all.
It helped that her aristo boyfriend actually had plans to marry her, if what she said was to be believed. It definitely made things better that she was no longer in the country. My only hope was that people would forget her gist and move on…quickly.
But with Jimi in the same camp as me, I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait for that!
Settling into my room, I was glad that I wasn’t paired with anyone from Unilag. My best friend, Bimbo, unfortunately hadn’t been able to graduate either, as a result of some pre-requisite courses she had failed in her 2nd year, and my other close friend, Lilian, had left the country for the UK, for postgraduate study. So I’d had no choice but to make friends with the lovely girls from schools from different parts of the country, and was determined to make the most of the 3-week camp.
For the 1st week, I was able to dodge Jimi successfully. I was lucky not to be in the same Platoon as he was, so was able to avoid him during our early morning drills, and other activities. As I didn’t roll in the Unilag crew, it was easy for our paths not to intersect. Funnily enough, I was surprised to see that he was also keeping to himself, and not socializing with the popular guys from our school. Most of the time, he was actually by himself.
As we started our 2nd week of camp, one day as I walked down Mammy Market with Joy, my room mate from the University of Calabar, I caught sight of Jimi making his way down the same path. But as soon as he saw me, I saw him dash into a nearby stall. And that was when it dawned on me.
He was avoiding me as well.
The realization made me burst out laughing. I was amused at the hilarity of it all. There I was doing all I could to dodge the guy, when he had been doing just about the same thing. When Joy inquired why I was laughing, I had given her a quick summary and she too had been amused. But apart from being amused, I was also actually relieved. I was glad that he also had no desire to talk to me, as I had no idea what I would say to him…especially if he asked after Dolly.
So, I let my guard down, and I stopped being all paranoid and worried about seeing him. By the end of our 2nd week, there was an Inter-Platoon dance completion. I smiled, reading the poster, remembering my younger days when my blood would have been tingling at the prospect. Those days were so far gone, it was unbelievable. The Foads party where I met Jimi had been the last time I’d danced publicly. I guess I just lost interest after all that went down. My older brother, on the other hand, from the pictures he sent from Manchester, where he was in Medical School, was still dancing as actively as when he was a teenager. But as for me, that desire was long dead.
But I’d decided to attend the competition anyway, and I was glad I did, as it was the funniest thing I had ever watched in my life, with more than 80% of the contestants the worst dancers I had ever seen. My new friends were very colorful with their yabs in Pidgin English, and it made the experience even more entertaining. When the event was over, as we made our way out of the hall, in the pandemonium, I walked straight into Jimi. From the look of horror on his face, which I’m sure mirrored mine, it was the last thing he wanted.
And then, we both started laughing.
“I guess we couldn’t avoid each other forever!” Jimi had laughed.
“You knew I was avoiding you?” I asked, also laughing.
“Are you kidding me? That first day of camp, when you were literally kneeling behind the guy in the queue?! Yeah…I saw you!” Jimi joked.
“How about the way you did a Michael Johnson the day you saw me at Mammy Market?” I had teased back.
He shook his head and smiled, just as embarrassed as I was. “Why have we been doing this anyway?” he asked.
The smile on my face faded, and so did his. I knew that it was the realization of the reason that had set in. Dolly.
“There’s no need to feel bad, Fola. We both know Dolly was the sole architect of her actions. I don’t blame you for any of what happened.” he had said.
I couldn’t come up with a suitable response. Yes, anyone with any sense knew I couldn’t have had a hand in what Dolly had done, but it didn’t do much to erase the shame.
“How have you been though?” I asked, as we made our way out of the hall.
He shrugged. “Very fine. I was actually glad things ended the way they did. I’d spent too long denying what I knew to be true.”
I looked at him quizzically, and he laughed sardonically.
“Come on, Fola. You think I didn’t know she was cheating on me?” he retorted. “Two Christmases ago, one of your neighbours, I won’t tell you who, told me about the flashy cars that used to pick her up almost every night. So, I decided to set a trap for her. One evening, I pretended to leave for home, but I lay in wait near your house, waiting. True to his words, at 10pm on the dot, a red Lexus jeep pulled up in front of your house. I followed them all the way to the island, and I accosted them as they got out of the car, in front of what I assume was the guy’s house.”
I stared at Jimi in shock. “You knew? And yet you stayed?”
He shrugged. “I actually broke up with her, but she went ballistic. She was crying hysterically, and even abandoned the guy in the Lexus, pleading. She insisted on following me back home, and she pretty much cried the whole night. For me, I was done…but I was eventually touched by what I thought was her remorse. So, by the next morning, I decided to give her another chance.”
“But she didn’t stop!” I interjected, still surprised by what I was hearing.
Jimi nodded regretfully. “She told me she would never repeat it again. At first, I was foolish enough to believe her. I decided to trust her, and not ambush her like I’d done before. I didn’t give your neighbor any more audience to tell me stories, and chose to give her the benefit of the doubt. And then the scandal broke!”
“When them Anu and co. saw her at that party…” I chimed.
“Exactly! That was when I realized that the lifestyle had become a part of her…” he answered.
We stood in silence; me processing the news and him…I guess reliving the incident all over again.
“I saw you two. The night you broke up. I saw you both arguing by your car…” I heard myself saying.
“Yeah, by that time, I was done. I was through. She had broken my trust, and I knew there was no coming back from that.”
My eyebrow raised, quizzically. “I thought she’s the one who broke up with you.”
Jimi smiled. “Is that what she said?”
And then it made perfect sense to me. I knew that Dolly’s general indifference, and the speed with which she went public with Frank, was because of the rejection she had suffered from Jimi. Jimi had actually broken up with her, and not the other way around.
Walking me back to my hostel, our conversation strayed from Dolly, to other general interest topics. Like me, Jimi hadn’t danced in years.
“The older I got, the more foolish I felt doing it.” he said, echoing my sentiments. “It felt like I was a performer in some freak show, dancing around for everyone’s entertainment. So…I stopped!” he smiled at me. “What’s your excuse?”
“Let’s just say I don’t have great memories of the last time I did.” I answered matter of factly, and from the pained look on his face, it was clear he knew exactly what I was talking about.
“Listen, Fola…about what happened…” he began.
I brushed him aside with a wave of the hand. “Water down the hill, Jimi! Totally unnecessary to discuss.”
“That was probably the worst decision I ever made…” he said, thoughtfully.
Now, the last thing I wanted was to feel patronized, so I ignored the statement. Luckily, he changed the topic, and we found ourselves gisting and laughing about the way some other Unilag grads had been conducting themselves in camp, carrying about false airs. By the time we reached my hostel, I was in hysterics.
“I’m glad we did this, Fola.” Jimi said, with a smile that was deep and sincere.
As I smiled back in response, I realized one thing…
I had never gotten over him.
The next day, rather than trying to avoid him, I found myself looking out for him…and when we found each other, we pretty much carried on from where we left off the day before. The ease with which we talked, the fluidity of our conversations, those were things I’d never had with anyone, lest of all even the closest people to me, and especially not the many guys who had hovered around me over the years. We laughed over the same things, and quite literally finished up each other’s sentence. We were like soulmates.
Except we weren’t. Soul mates didn’t drop each other like it was hot, the next time the next gorgeous human being came their way.
My new friends teased me naturally over my friendship with Jimi, with some even insinuating that we were dating. Not even telling them of the history we had, how he had dumped me for my sister, could change their minds.
“I don’t understand. Is your sister here?” one of them had quipped, when I told the story for the umpteenth time. “As far as I can see…you are here, he is here…and your sister isn’t So, got for it!”
I laughed off the statement, and continued hanging out with Jimi. The more time we spent in each other’s company, the more our friendship deepened.
And also, the deeper in love I fell in love with him!
My consolation to myself was that it would all be over soon, and we would return to our normal lives. As close as we had become, I knew there was absolutely no way we could have a friendship outside of the enclosed Iyana Ipaja Orientation Ground. The less I saw of him afterward, the easier it would be to fall out of love with him.
“I have really, really enjoyed this time with you!” Jimi said to me, on our last night of camp. “I really wish things had been different…”
At that point, I’d had enough.
“Can we please not talking about whatever could have been?! You made up your mind back then, Jimi! One look at Dolly, and you realized I wasn’t the one for you. So I don’t get all this misplaced regret!” I retorted, angry.
“It’s true, Fola. Yes, I admit that I lost my head over Dolly. I was much younger then, and the sight of her took my breath away…I won’t lie about that.” he admitted, “But we didn’t have the depth of conversation you and I had, after only two nights in each other’s company. She wasn’t interested in talking about the things that interested me, and when we were alone, more than half the time, it was just the sex!”
I felt my blood beginning to boil. “So, Dolly was the beautiful, irresistible one…and I was the one with the ‘great conversation’. Very charming!”
He reached for my hand. “It wasn’t just the conversation, Fola.” he said. “I was very attracted to you. We had so much in common! Seeing you that day of the party, you definitely piqued my interest. I was definitely interested in a long term relationship with you.”
I had so many comebacks on the tip of my mouth. I wanted to retort how I had piqued his interest, but I guess Dolly had taken that same interest to the galaxy! I wanted to remind me of how small he’d made me feel, especially after that night in his car, when he’d told me I wasn’t the one he wanted.
But rather than throw back any of these, I had stared at him, speechless.
And then he had kissed me…and my heart felt like it had burst into a million, little colorful hearts!
It wasn’t the light brush of a kiss we’d shared at Flavors, all those years ago. It was a gentle one, but yet more probing. It was one that sent across the message…the message that this thing we now had was in no way platonic.
I’d kissed him back, not wanting it to stop. I could have kissed him the whole night, if it hadn’t been for the requirement to be in our hostels at a certain time. But even back on my bed, I lay awake all night, memories of the kiss still lingering on my lips.
The next morning, he had offered me a ride home in the car sent to pick him up. I’d accepted, as it was a much better option than going to look for a taxi. We had driven in silence all the way to Surulere, both of us deep in thought…possibly pondering the kiss from the night before.
Getting to my house, Jimi was surprised to see me fish my house keys from under a flower pot.
“Isn’t there anyone home?” he’d asked.
I shook my head. Our mother had recently flown to be with Adun in Dallas, as they awaited the birth of my nephew, any day now. Dad was in Saudi, Niyi was in Manchester, and Dolly…well, she was with her man, Frank, in Atlanta.
I was home alone.
“Thanks for the ride.” I said, with a cheery smile. Even though my heart was melting at the sight of him, and the memory of our last kiss, I was saddened by the fact that this was the end of our liaison. Nothing good could come from cavorting with Dolly’s ex.
Jimi had leaned in to kiss me goodbye…and somehow, the kiss had deepened, and we had made our way into the house…and right upstairs to my bedroom…
And I gave my virginity to him.
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