Sleep eludes me all night. All I can think of is how my dream, my perfect dream, has been shattered to a million little pieces.
I am still lying in bed, wide awake, at about 5am when there is a knock on my door. Before even waiting for a response from me, it opens and Dili walks in.
“Ezi…we have to talk.”
I remain still in bed, not acknowledging his presence, not wanting him to verbalise my darkest fear. That what we’ve had these last few weeks has been nothing but a mirage…a mere fantasty.
“Ezi, please look at me.” he says, sitting on my bed.
I remain with my back turned to him, more so for him not to see the tears that are pooling in my eyes.
“What we have is special. I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. It’s funny, because I never would have imagined ever feeling like this when we first started this…but somehow, you’ve taken over my whole heart and soul, Ezioma.” he says, before inhaling deeply. “But I made a promise to Onyeka. She has given nine years of her life to me, three of which have been with me here in America. I started dating her when she was just 21 years old…next year she’ll be 30. For crying out loud, I was the one who took her virginity. I can’t hurt her this way.”
I bite my upper lip to prevent myself from crying aloud, the tears fast rushing down my face. With everything in me, I want to lash out at him, hit him, claw his eyes out, demand why he has led me on for weeks if he knew we never stood a chance. But I know all that will be futile. It will not change the fact that he is Onyeka’s. He always has been…and always will be.
“There’s no way I could disappoint her that way…no matter how I feel.” he continues. “Not after I made promises to her and her family. I could never do that. That was the way my father was and I could never be like him. Not ever.”
I remain immobile and so does he, and we are that way for what seems to be forever. In the end, with a resigned sigh, he gets up from my bed and lets himself out of the room. I remain lying for a few more minutes, before I also rise from my bed and head to the bathroom for an early shower. I lock the adjoining door that leads to Dili’s bedroom, to prevent him from ambushing me there, and I proceed to stand under the faucet for the better part of the hour, allowing the water cascade from my nappy hair all the way down to my feet. But it gives me little or no relief or escape from my current reality. Instead, it only serves to paint the picture in its more explicit and crystal clear reality. Dili and I will never be.
By the time I am out of the shower and back in my room, as I prepare for work, I am able to put my game face on. Dili is not going to see me broken. He has eaten his cake and had it, but that is far of a fool I am going to allow him make of me. Instead, I dress up to the nines, making sure I look extra hot. No man has been able to bring me down since Eze, and I sure as heck won’t allow Dili do that to me now.
As I head towards the door, he walks out of his room, also dressed for work.
“You’re going to work early?” I ask, trying to sound casual.
“Yeah…” is his hesitant reply. “Ezioma, did you hear what I said in your room this morning?”
I smile and give it a curt wave. “Oh that? Never mind. We don’t have to make a big deal out of it. It’s fine. I’m fine. Have a great day at work.”
And with that, I walk out of the apartment before he has the big idea of sharing a cab with me. I don’t know how long my façade will last, and I don’t want to run the risk of imploding before him.
Upon getting to work, I am grateful that I love my job enough for it to be always able to provide me a means of escape. I immerse myself so deeply into it, I don’t even have time to come up for air to eat. I am a hyper ball of energy, rolling from meetings to conference calls to document reviews to strategy sessions the whole day, and when the office empties out, I use the quiet time to respond to emails and read Info Memos and Term Sheets. By the time I walk out of the Goldman building to a waiting official car sent to give me a ride home, it is well past 11pm. Upon getting home, I am happy to see that Dili has already retired to bed, and this begins a regular pattern for me; leaving the apartment at the crack of dawn and not getting back till about midnight. By so doing, I am able to avoid seeing Dili for that whole week, and even when the weekend comes, I decide to spend it at work as well.
After playing the dodging game for another week, Dili surprises me by showing up at my office one day.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, as I walk into the lobby after being notified of his presence.
“Should I move out, Ezioma?” he asks. “Rather than turn you into a workaholic ninja afraid of her own home. If you really don’t want to see me again, I could find myself somewhere else to stay.”
“There’s no need for that, Dili.” I answer. “May will soon be here, and I’m sure your permanent card will be ready by then.”
“So why are we this way, Ezi? Why are we now like strangers?” he exclaims in exasperation. “How could we go from being deliriously happy to…to this?”
At that point, my carefully woven façade drops and I let my anger show. “You expect us to be ‘business as usual’? After telling me that, at the end of the day, it’s Onyeka you want?!”
A few curious glances are cast our way, but I am past the stage of caring at that point.
He nods slowly. “I knew you weren’t fine with it, like you said.”
“Okwudili, I’m not going to play this game with you.” I continue, glaring at him with all the anger and hurt I have been nursing. “We’ve both had our fun. Let’s just stick to the original script and forget all the other nonsense. You focus on your Onyeka and I’ll focus on my own life.”
He remains standing there, even after I have stormed off to the elevator that will take me back to my floor, but I make sure not to look back at him, lest, like Lot’s wife, I turn into a pillar of salt…or in this case, a mess of unrestrained emotions. Being in close proximity with him after so long has shown me that I can’t trust myself with him yet…not with the way he still makes my heart race and the butterflies in my stomach sing. No…I have to stay as far away from him as I can possibly manage.
I am barely able to concentrate at work and find myself absent minded for the rest of the day…which is probably why I pay no attention to the caller ID on my phone when it rings towards the end of the day.
“Ezi?” comes that unmistakable New England accent.
I sit up in my chair. “Seth?”
“Hey stranger! It’s been a long time.” my ex-fiancé says in response. “I thought you promised to stay in touch. We haven’t spoken in…what…two years?”
I smile. “I’m so sorry. It’s been pretty hectic. Work has been really busy.”
“I hear you made Executive Director. Congratulations” he hesitates for a moment before continuing. “I also heard you got married.”
I shut my eyes in my exasperation, my fake marriage biting me in the behind once again.
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.”
“I’ll be in New York for a family function this weekend. My cousin, Larry…you remember Larry right? His son’s Bar Mitzvah is on Saturday.” He continues. “If your husband won’t mind, will it be okay for me to crash in the spare bedroom?”
I inhale deeply, wondering how I am going to tell Seth that my ‘husband’ actually sleeps in the spare bedroom. Even though it has been over 2 years since he last asked, every time Seth is in New York, he has always found a roof over his head in the apartment he’d once co-owned. So I feel bad about having to turn him down now.
“Ezi, are you still there?” he asks. “Will your husband mind?”
I find myself sitting up, thoughts of Dili’s relationship with Onyeka flooding my head. Yes, the spare room might be occupied…but nothing stops Seth from sharing my own room…just the way he has the last few times he’s stayed over. Even though we’d broken up then, anytime he was in New York and asked to stay over, we’d always ended up sleeping on the same bed and having great, no-strings-attached sex. There’s no reason why we can’t do the same this time, Dili or no Dili.
“Actually Friday.” he answers. “And I’ll be out of your hair by Sunday.”
“Great! I look forward to seeing you again.”
“Me too.” he answers hesitantly. “I’ve really missed you, Ezi. I sometimes wonder if I made the biggest mistake walking away from us.”
We end the conversation on that nostalgic note, and I decide to close early for a change. Apart from there not being any need to dodge Dili again, not after finally coming face to face with him that morning, I decide to while away my time daydreaming of Seth and all the things that could be.
“You’re home early.” Dili remarks, as I let myself into the apartment. “I guess that means no more hide and seek games.”
I ignore him as I take off my coat.
“How was work today?” he asks, obviously trying to make small talk.
“Oh yeah, before I forget.” I say. “Seth will be in town this weekend, and he’ll be staying over here.”
A deep frown forms on Dili’s face. “Seth, your ex-fiancé? Why would he stay here?”
I shrug nonchalantly. “He stays here when he’s in town.”
“Where is he going to sleep? On the living room sofa?”
“Don’t be silly, Dili. The man used to co-own the apartment. I could never make him sleep on the sofa.” I answer. “He’ll be in my room with me.”
“What?!” Dili retorts.
I don’t dignify him with a response and instead head to my bedroom. But Dili is clearly not done with our conversation.
“Your ex is going to sleep in your bedroom with you?!” he bellows, following me into my room. “You are going to sleep with your ex?”
“Okwudili, what’s it to you?” I yell. “Considering you are occupying the only other alternative, where would you have him stay?”
“In a hotel, I would think!” Dili yells back. “I don’t see any single rational reason for him to sleep here, when I’m sure he has a million other options here in Manhattan!”
“He might have ‘a million other options’ but this is his best option!” I retort. “This was his home for many years…an apartment he paid for with his sweat. Even when I was buying him out, he didn’t even sell it to me at market value. So yeah, anytime he’s in town, you can be darned sure that I’ll accommodate him!”
“I thought all your people here think you’re married!” Dili demands. “Isn’t that what he knows too? And yet, you still want to have him in your bed with your husband under the same roof.”
I laugh sardonically. “Married indeed! Yes, that’s what he thinks. But I have every intention of filling him in on the truth when he gets here!”
“I’ll sleep in the living room!” Dili says, his own frustration rising. “Let him have my room, I don’t mind.”
“What is this obsession you have when it comes to me and other men?!” I exclaim, also frustrated. “That was how you almost burst a blood vessel when you thought I was going to sleep with Madufuro. You want me to stay here like a celibate fool, whilst you’re there planning how to go surprise Onyeka for Valentine’s Day?”
Dili stares at me, unable to come up with a suitable response.
“Okwudili, please leave my room.” I say firmly. “You have no right whatsoever to dictate who I do or don’t entertain in my bedroom. Seth will be here on Friday, and he’s going to stay here with me.”
Defeated, he leaves my room and rather than feel triumphant, I am completely drained. I am sick and tired of Dili’s possessiveness, when I know he is still cavorting with Onyeka. I am sick and tired of these mixed signals he is sending. It makes me even more determined to have Seth over and put paid to this hold Dili has over me…once and for all.
For the rest of the week, the atmosphere is tense in the apartment, with Dili and I barely speaking to each other. Our living room has turned into something of a ghost town as we have now resorted to having our meals in our respective bedrooms. He is clearly annoyed, and frankly so am I.
On Friday, Seth calls me when his train arrives Penn Station from Durham, North Carolina, and I decide to take a taxi to meet him up there. Upon sighting his bright red hair, which he has allowed grow out from the cropped style he had as an Investment Banker into something of a messy quiff, I can’t help but smile.
“You always are a sight for sore eyes!” he marvels, after we embrace. “You look amazing, Ezi. Marriage is sure treating you well.”
“You don’t look bad yourself!” I remark, choosing to ignore the marriage reference. “I see you let your hair grow out. Looking more like a College Professor! Why on earth did you opt for a 12-hour train ride, when you could have just flown?”
“Not all of us are making Investment Banking money.” he answers with a sigh. “I can’t believe I ever thought life would be easier in the academia. It’s almost as hectic as being out here in Manhattan!”
I raise a brow. “Oh? Any regrets?”
He smiles and shakes his head. “Not a single one. Best decision I ever made. The only thing that would have made it complete is if you were there with me. But I guess I’ve lost you now. So…tell me about your husband. I hear he’s also Nigerian. Where did you meet him? How long did you two date?”
I smile stiffly. “So many questions! Don’t worry…there’s lots of time to fill you in on all that.” I answer with the hope it will kill off the conversation…for the time being at least. By the time we get to the apartment and he sees he’ll be sharing a bed with me after all, I know I’ll have no choice but to come clean.
We chat about Goldman and Duke in the cab ride back to my apartment, and I can see the shocked look on my doorman’s face as we enter the building hand-in-hand, and as Seth greets him heartily. I smile inwardly as I imagine Tomas’ confusion. The poor guy must think me the most complicated woman he has ever come across.
Upon getting to the apartment, I am surprised to find that Dili is already there. At a little past 4pm, it is early even for him.
“Ah, you must be Seth!” he says with a warm smile, extending his hand in a handshake. “I’m Dili. Ezi’s husband.”
Seth smiles and shakes him heartily. “Very glad to meet you.”
I watch in astonishment as Dili proceeds to engage Seth in conversation, asking him about his trip and then leading him to the Guest Room.
“What are you doing?!” I snarl, grabbing Dili by the arm after he has left Seth alone to unpack.
“Giving the guy the room he should have!” he snarls back. “Sorry if that ruins your plans.”
“I hope you don’t think you’re going to sleep in my own room!” I snap, enraged to my bones.
“Don’t worry. I’ll sleep in the living room.” Dili mutters before walking away.
By the time Seth emerges from his bedroom shortly after, I have no choice but to go along with Dili’s charade. The three of us chat through dinner and long afterwards, and as Seth finally retires to his room, Dili remains in the living room under the pretext of watching TV.
My eyes are wide open as I lie alone on my bed. Deep in my heart, I am actually relieved that I didn’t go through with my plan of sharing a bed with Seth. It would clearly only complicate things, especially as I can see from Seth’s body language that he wants me back. As flattering as that might be, I’m not sure returning to him is the wisest thing for me to do.
After tossing and turning for hours, I head to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of juice. Walking past the living room, I stop and look at Dili’s sleeping form on the sofa. He looks uncomfortable, and I marvel that he went through all this just to keep Seth away from my bedroom. And I can’t control the small smile that forms on my lips.
The rest of the weekend is uneventful. Seth is away most of Saturday at his family function and returns too late for us to be compelled to have another night of conversation. And early Sunday morning, he takes the train back to Durham, leaving Dili and I alone to continue our acrimonious co-existence.
Later that week, I get a surprise evite from Azuka, inviting me for their annual Christmas party the following Wednesday, the 23rd of December. I am tempted to turn down the invitation, but decide against it. Even though I am fully aware than Nnamdi would also have invited his friend, Dili, I am eager to get out there and try to meet new people.
That Wednesday, I leave work early in a bid to beautify myself. At about 7pm, I hear Dili leave the house and know he is on his way to Nnamdi and Azuka’s 59th Street and Madison apartment. It’s ironic how, only a year before, we’d attended the party as the best of friends, our friendship untainted by sex and unrealistic expectations. Now, only a year later, we can barely stand the sight of each other.
I don’t leave the apartment for another two hours and arrive at the party a little after 9pm. It is already packed to the rafters and in full swing. I exchange greetings with Azuka and a few of the ladies I recognize from the previous year, before taking a seat. I can feel several appreciative glances from some of the guys and I’m grateful I spent all that time getting myself dolled up for the night. Despite wanting to be oblivious of him, I find myself scanning the room for Dili. I see him sitting alone at the far end of the room, nursing a drink. He looks anything but happy to be there, and it surprises me, considering how much fun he had there only a year before.
And then he looks up and our eyes meet.
I immediately tear mine away and smile flirtatiously at one of the men who has been checking me out. Aint no way I’m going to dull tonight!
The guy moves closer to me and introduces himself as Iheanyi, a cousin of Nnamdi’s. We are in the middle of chatting about how life as an Nigerian undergrad at UPenn compares to his own alma mater of Howard University, when the Patoranking’s My Woman, My Everything stops playing abruptly. I look up, wondering what has gotten into the DJ, only to see Dili take his seat before the grand piano in the living room…and my heart stops, as his fingers strum the opening keys of John Legend’s Ordinary People.
Girl, I’m in love with you
This ain’t the honeymoon
Passed the infatuation phase
Right in the thick of love
At times we get sick of love
Seems like we argue everyday
I know I misbehaved and you made your mistakes
And we both still got room left to grow
And though love sometimes hurts
I still put you first
And we’ll make this thing work but I think maybe we should take it slow
As he sings, his eyes are on me the whole time. The room listens in rapt attention to him sing and play, and our eyes remain in a hold, neither of us able to look away. When the song ends, the room explodes in rapturous applause, but even that doesn’t break our eye lock. Because through all that applause, our eyes and hearts have communicated…and I realise several things. I realise that, despite everything going on in his life, he does love me. I realise I am still madly in love with him. I realise I still want to be with him. I realise it is better for me to have him…even if it is for only a few months…than to lose him forever now. I realise I am ready to accept whatever he can give me…until the inevitable happens and he has to return to Onyeka. I realise that I am ready to make do with that.
He makes his way to me and I rise to my feet, even with Iheanyi in mid-sentence. He takes me by the hand and we wordlessly leave the party. When we get home, the minute we walk into the apartment, I dissolve into his arms…and as my body, heart and soul succumb to him, I know that this is the only place I want to be.
Later that night as he sleeps, I rise to my feet and walk to my workstation, wanting to release my feelings on to my keyboard.
Ordinary People (John Legend) – December 23, 2015
…Maybe we’ll live and learn
Maybe we’ll crash and burn
Maybe you’ll stay
Maybe you’ll leave
Maybe you’ll return
Maybe another fight
Maybe we won’t survive
But maybe we’ll grow
We never know
Baby, you and I
We’re just ordinary people
We don’t know which way to go
‘Cause we’re ordinary people
Maybe we should take it slow…
Maybe we’ll crash and burn. Maybe we’ll survive. Whatever the odds, I’d rather spend a day with you than a lifetime apart. I’d rather have you for a moment, than to lose you forever. I’m going to savour every minute of the little time we have left. My love, this time we will take it slow.
Unable to write anymore, I return to bed, where he proceeds to pull me closer to himself. I close my eyes, savouring every beautiful moment of it. Yes, until he has to go to her, I am determined to enjoy every single minute with him.
Every single minute.
Catch up on Ezioma’s story here:
- A Love of Convenience! 1: Handbags & Gladrags
- A Love of Convenience! 2: There she goes
- A Love of Convenience! 3: The day will surely come
- A Love of Convenience! 4: Russian Farmer’s Song
- A Love of Convenience! 5: Moonlighting Strangers
- A Love of Convenience! 6: Knocks me off my feet
- A Love of Convenience! 7: A simple kind of life
- A Love of Convenience! 8: I can’t help it
- A Love of Convenience! 9: Edge of desire
- A Love of Convenience! 10: The Fear