I decide against simply buzzing him in, and choose to go downstairs to receive him instead. As I ride the 27 floors from my apartment down to the ground floor, my heart is literally in my mouth, as I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Am I truly, truly able to share an apartment with Dili…my new fake husband…all in order to keep up the charade of our marriage…when it appears my childhood crush on him was not just a childhood one after all. I find myself humming the song I’ve been humming since the first day I saw him in New York, Six Pence None The Richer’s There She Goes.
I sight him the moment I step out of the elevator, and I feel butterflies flutter in my stomach. In his Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirt and trackdowns, he is a vision of sexiness. His face lights up when he sees me and he walks over to give me a friendly embrace.
“Your tenant has arrived!” he laughs. “I hope I didn’t come with too much luggage. I thought I’d be able to leave a few things at Folarin’s place, but it appears he and his wife were too happy to see me go!”
I smile, looking at his meagre 2 suitcases and a travel bag. If I were to move all my things out, we’d be talking in the dozens of boxes and bags. “As long as you have everything you need, it’s not too much.”
Taking him by the hand, I walk up to the doorman on duty. “Hi, Tomas. I’d like to introduce you to my husband, Dili. He’s moving in.”
Tomas face breaks into a broad smile and he shakes Dili’s hand vigorously. “Oh wow! Congratulations! This is fantastic news!”
“I’ve already arranged for him to have his own card and key.” I continue. “But I just wanted to introduce you. I’ll do the same with Stuart when he’s here.” Stuart is the other doorman.
Dili looks on in awe as Tomas and I talk, and as we make our way into the elevator. “I can’t get over the fact you live here! It must have cost you a fortune!”
I smile at the look of pure admiration on Dili’s face. We’d had this exact conversation the first time I brought him here, about a week before. He’d been even more shocked to hear that I’m not renting and that the flat actually belongs to me. I’d bought it a few years before…with my ex-fiancé, Seth. He was an Investment Banker like me, and back in those days when our bonuses where out of this world, we’d been able to easily afford the apartment in Manhattan’s upper east side. And when Seth had decided to give up his career on Wall Street in favour of one in the academia instead, leading to our breakup, I’d been able to buy him out and take full ownership of the apartment.
How did I get here? How did the girl with such humble beginnings who had come to America with only $600, money her parents had barely been able to raise, end up owning her own luxury Manhattan apartment? A lot of sweat and hard work that’s what…and a good dash of good luck, I’ll have to admit.
I arrived America in August 1995, a bright and eager 18 year old, ready to take on the world. Luckily, my father had found me a chaperone in Philadelphia, an older sister of one of his colleagues at work. Aunty Amaka had taken me in like her own daughter and had ensured I was not only comfortable, but that I had all I needed to start life at UPenn. She’d taken me to school herself and had settled me into my dormitory as best as she could, carefully scrutinizing my room-mates to be sure she was comfortable enough to leave me there. And she had made it a point of duty to check on me almost every week. She was as good as a mother to me, and even then, I knew how lucky I was. Quite a number of the other international students I soon befriended did not have it quite as good as I did; some of them were completely alone there in Philly and others had family/chaperones literally from the pit of hell. Very few had caring Guardians like mine, who not only checked on me frequently, but often visited with coolers of delicious Nigerian delicacies. So yeah, I knew I was very lucky indeed.
Towards the end of my Freshman year, I befriended a Nigerian boy, Eze. Even though his major was Electrical Engineering and mine was Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics, we soon became like Siamese twins. For the first time in almost 19 years of my life, a guy was actually paying me attention. I had long resigned myself to the fact that my brain was all I had to offer, and didn’t take it to heart when I was overlooked by sororities or didn’t get the same kind of male attention my friends got. It was okay. I’d accepted I just wasn’t that girl, and instead chose to focus on shining the one way I knew how…academically. Eze was also something of a nerd, so I guess it’s no surprise that he was drawn to me. By our sophomore year, everyone knew us as a couple. Eze & Ezi. Even our names had a ring to it. We were always together and I was soon helplessly in love with him…so much so that I gave him my virginity, in the fall of 1996. He became my everything…all that I lived and breathed for. By the time we got to our Junior Year (3rd year), we moved in together, to an apartment off-campus. Even though my Aunty Amaka wasn’t too happy about this, her love for Eze made her overlook the fact that her 20 year old ward was cohabiting with a man. Thankfully, she didn’t tell my parents about this, as they most surely would not have been as understanding. The good part of living with Eze was that he made sure we studied round the clock, because left to me, I was happy to just lie in his arms all day long. My passion had shifted from my books to my boyfriend, and it’s a wonder that my grades didn’t crash too hard.
Then came our Senior Year…and everything fell apart. Eze suddenly became cranky and irritable, and started spending more and more time out of the apartment. After weeks of agonising over the change in his behavior, and pretty much crying myself to sleep every night, in January 1999, at the start of the Spring Semester, he finally broke up with me. He told me I wasn’t the same fiery and passionate girl he’d fallen in live with, and that he’d met someone else. This someone else was a young Nigerian freshman called Bodunrin. She was also in UPenn on a scholarship and was apparently something of a whizz kid. She was everything I’d been in my own freshman year, the only difference being that she had the looks to go with her brains. She had the face of an angel and the body of a porn star. There was no way I could compete with that. Luckily, my longtime friend, Melissa, had let me move into her apartment, and I’d spent the next few weeks refusing to leave the couch, crying myself awake and to sleep everyday. I probably might have done that for the rest of the academic year if my friends hadn’t staged a mini intervention, reminding me of why I was in America in the first place, and if I really wanted to let down my family back in Nigeria because of some geek of a boy called Eze?!
Somehow, that was all I needed to reset my brain, and I shook off my funk and immersed myself into my studies once again. Not only was this enough to help me forget about Eze and Bodunrin, by so doing, I was able to graduate Summa Cum Laude, meaning “with highest honor”, awarded to only the top 1–5% of one’s class, and the equivalent of a First Class. My father had gathered all his coins, and he and my mother had flown to America for the ceremony. Seeing the look of immense pride on my parents’ and guardian’s faces more than made up for the months of sacrifice that had led me there. Eze, on the other hand, had only managed to graduate Cum Laude(within 25% – 30% of his class). Apparently, his intoxication with his new girlfriend had seen his grades topple. And I’m not ashamed to admit that it gave me immense satisfaction! What made things even better was hearing Bodunrin dumped him for an all-American frat boy. And the highest satisfaction came when he actually tried to get back with me, bombarding my inbox with non-stop e-mails. Thankfully, life after UPenn took us in opposite directions, with him having to return to Nigeria, and me getting to choose between several job offers and a Graduate Assistant position I’d been offered at UPenn’s business school, Wharton.
My friends, and even Aunty Amaka, thought it was a no-brainer. They all wanted me to accept a very tantalizing offer from a Silicon Valley company, with a very tempting salary. But I’d surprised them all and opted to heed my father’s advice to take up the Graduate Assistant position at Wharton, as it was an opportunity to go to an Ivy-League business school without having to pay a dime. And that was what I did. I started my MBA, with a focus on Statistics…and never looked back. People thought I would struggle, especially as I didn’t come from a business or finance background, but I made them eat their words as I was soon top of my class. By the end of the internship after my 1st year, I’d already received a job offer with Goldman Sachs (where I’d interned), and several other companies on Wall Street. By the time I was done with my MBA, I decided to accept the role with Goldman, and that was when I moved to New York.
But it was a totally different Ezi who moved to New York. Towards the end of my MBA, I’d done a re-assessment of myself and decided it was time to start focusing on me for a change! I was only 24 years old and was determined to finally start acting my age, instead of someone decades older. So what if I wasn’t born with supermodel looks?! I now had enough money on my hands to do something about it.
So that was when I learnt how to dress for my petite stature and what kind of make-up worked for my features. With my very first salary, I began the 3-year long process of remedying my dentition. And with all of this came a new-found confidence in myself I’d never had before…not even when I was with Eze…or even when I graduated top of my class. Looking good finally made me feel good…and I finally came into my own person. For the first time, I was not known as just “the smart girl”, but as Ezi, a killer dresser and arguably one of the most fashionable women in Goldman Sachs’ West Street office. Yes, I was still known for my smarts and my ability to murder just about any brief that came my way, but I was no longer overlooked as a wallflower. Yes, I still wasn’t the prettiest girl in the room, but if I walked into that room, everyone noticed. And that was good enough for me.
I was now suddenly attractive to members of the opposite sex. It didn’t matter that almost 100% of this attention came from white guys. Frankly, after what Eze did to me, I was ready to try something new. My first boyfriend after Eze was a guy called Matt, a nice guy from a tight-knit Bostonian family. We dated for about a year until things fizzled out naturally. Then came several others, most of the relationships lasting between 6 to 18 months. And then came Seth.
Seth was a very good-looking Jewish guy who had been on my case for years, but I was adamant about not dating anyone who worked in Goldman like I did. Office romance, I’d decided, wasn’t for me. So I’d blown him off and proceeded to date several other guys instead. But after my breakup with my last boyfriend, I’d decided to take a break from men and instead focus on passing the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams I was writing. Seth had been writing the same exam, and we’d gravitated towards each other through group discussions of topics. By 2005, not only were we both certified CFA professionals, we were very much in love. By the time he proposed to me on my 30th birthday in 2007, I was convinced I had found THE ONE.
In 2008, we had both made Vice President at Goldman and decided to buy a house together. We knew the right thing to do was to buy a proper house outside New York, especially as we were getting ready to get married and start a family. But most of our friends were buying homes in the more swanky Manhattan, and so we decided to follow suit and had put down about twice the size of a budget for a nice town house in Connecticut on a 2-bedroom condo with a fancy Manhattan address.
However, 2009 had come with the global economic crunch and even though neither of us had lost our jobs, the strain on our sector had led to more pressure at work. There always seemed to be a looming cloud of uncertainty hanging, as nobody knew if they would be a victim of the next round of job cuts. Bonuses pretty much vanished into thin air, and there seemed to be less of an incentive to put in the tedious hours required to stay afloat in the world of investment banking.
It was around that time I got the part-time gig to write for the Manhattan Buzz, an online newspaper for the young Manhattan professional. I’d met the then-editor at a friend’s party, and what had started off as a joke had led to a daily column. We’d been talking about music, I’d mentioned something about having a soundtrack for everyday of my life, he’d offered me a column to write about it, and that’s how Soundtrack of my Life was born. It started out as a sleeper column but soon gained cult followership. The truth is I never knew I had it in me to write, but not only did I find it a great outlet to let things out, the money that came from it was a much needed supplement to my salary, a salary I didn’t know how long I’d have it for.
Seth couldn’t understand why I was ‘distracting’ myself with such an unnecessary ‘hobby’, but while I had an outlet to express myself, he didn’t and it didn’t take long before the strain of work was too much for him to handle. By 2012, not only was our 5-year long engagement looking unlikely to lead to the altar, Seth made the wild decision to quit his job and take up a teaching position with Duke University. Leaving my job and moving to North Carolina was not an option for me, so we’d made the amicable decision to break up. Not wanting the mess that came with co-ownership, I’d bought him out of the apartment and moved on with my life as a single 35 year old woman. Even though I was sad about the end of the relationship, it hadn’t broken me and I’d realised that, somewhere deep in my heart, I was actually relieved.
Thankfully, there was less pressure at work and my day job was no longer a chore that had to be endured. My passion for it returned, I got back into the dating scene and I fell in love with life again. As my parents had both passed away (dad from a heart attack in 2002 and my mom from breast cancer in 2005), I had very little pressure from home to get married, as my siblings were themselves also busy with their own lives.
And that was how I remained free and fancy free! Until about a month ago.
I’d been having a cup of coffee and a muffin at a Starbucks near my office, when I’d seen him standing across the street, looking hapless. I stopped chewing as I strained to look, to make sure the man I was seeing was indeed my childhood love, Dili, a man I hadn’t seen in about 20 years. But even though so much time had passed, there was no mistaking those eyes and that chin. I knew without a shadow of doubt in my mind that it was him.
Jumping to my feet, I ran out of the store and yelled his name. “Dili! Okwudili!”
He looked across the street in shock and waved at me, still looking confused. I could tell he didn’t recognise me…a fact that pleased and saddened me at the same time. When the pedestrian light when on, I dashed across the street to meet him.
“Dili, don’t you remember me?” I exclaimed, too excited about seeing him again.
Recognition lit up his eyes and a smile broke on his face. “Ezioma!!!”
And then we hugged each other like the long lost friends we were.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “When did you come to America?”
Something in his eyes shifted, and I could tell he didn’t have a happy story. “About a year now. But I’ve only been in New York a few weeks.”
That was when I noticed that he didn’t look quite so good. His eyes looked weary and tired, and there was a fray to his shirt that made me realize it had been worn a few times too many.
“Are you busy? I was having a coffee across the road. Would you like to join me, so we could catch up?” I asked.
He smiled. “I’d really love that!”
With hands interlinked, we crossed the road and returned to my table where my half drunk and heal eaten coffee and muffin still sat.
“You look amazing, Ezi! I’d heard you were doing well, but you look absolutely amazing!” he remarked. “Are you still on Wall Street?”
I nod. “Goldman Sachs, 13 years now.”
“13 years! Wow! You must be a big Madam there now!”
I smiled. I’d actually just been promoted to Executive Director, but didn’t think saying that was appropriate…not with what I could sense.
“So how are you, Dili? What have you been up to here in NYC?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
His smile waned again, and he sighed deeply. “Mehn, Ezi…I can’t lie to you. It’s been tough. Really tough. I was hoping to have better luck here in New York than I did in California, but it’s been really tough!”
I stared at him, surprised. Tough? How on earth could life be tough for Chief Dike’s son? Yes, the old man had died around the same time as my father did, but surely he’d left enough of a legacy for his children…especially his first born son!
Dili saw the surprised look on my face and laughed. “I can understand why you’d be shocked, Ezi. The truth is, so were we. When my father died, we realised he was neck deep in debt. I spent the next decade pretty much trying to clear up the mess he made. It also didn’t help that the man left behind over a dozen illegitimate children to feed.”
“What?!” I exclaimed.
“You didn’t know?!” Dili asked, also surprised by my uninformed state. “Why do you think we moved to Enugu in such a haste?”
He went on to tell me how his mother had found out his father had another wife in the Enugu home he frequented. With one of his major factories in the town, he’d had cause to spend more and more time there, until he’d finally stopped coming back to Lagos altogether. Dili’s mother had heard he was not only living with another woman there, but was expecting a 3rd child with her. This had been all she needed to pack up everything and everyone and move to Enugu finally. Dili, having just finished his SSCE exams, had no choice but to move along with his mother and younger siblings. While they’d succeeded in uprooting the new ‘wife’, her spawn had stayed back. They’d thought that the worst was over, but what they hadn’t bargained for was the emergence of several other women…with several other children. Almost everyday, there had been a knock on their door subsequently followed by the emergence of yet another child from some random woman. And Dili’s mother, who’d always had a heart of gold, opened her door to every single one of them. By the time Dili’s father passed away in 2002, there were 13 children living in the house, in addition to the 4 Dili’s mother had borne. But the old man’s death had revealed he was steeped in debt in the hundreds of millions. They’d sold off all the man’s factories, houses and assets to be able to pay most of it off, and Dili had been saddled with the responsibility of caring for his large family. He’d asked his mother to send away the ‘bastard’ children several times, but she’d refused each time, insisting it was her duty and obligation to take care of them.
“Can you imagine that? Duty and obligation to a man who cheated on her? A man who played her for a fool?!” Dili retorted, and I could feel his pain was still raw, so many years later.
“I worked like an animal just to take care of them. I moved back to Lagos and got a job with one of the New Generation banks, but I could barely make enough to take care of the man’s kids, lest of all myself. I had to rent a small place for my Mom after we lost the house in Enugu, and all those kids moved there with her like small rats. As if that wasn’t enough, some of their mothers also moved in, and my mom actually welcomed them!”
“Your mom has always been a very kind person, Dili. I’m not surprised she wasn’t able to turn anyone away.” I answered. “Is that why you came here? To make a better living?”
“I lost my job with the bank, and couldn’t seem to get another one. For months, I was pounding the streets of Lagos, searching for any job at all. It was my fiancée who suggested trying America. I’d gotten a visa the year before, but hadn’t gotten around to using it. We figured that I’d be able to get better chances here.”
My stomach dropped at the word ‘fiancée’. “You’re engaged?”
He smiled and nodded. “Yeah. Her name is Onyeka. I really don’t know what she sees in me, really. She could have chosen any other guy without the same family troubles I have, someone able to take care of her the way she deserves…but she chose me. How lucky am I!”
I force a smile, surprised I am affected by hearing he is taken. A man I haven’t even seen or thought about for years. “How long have you been together?”
“A year after she finished University, so about 6 years now. She turned 27 yesterday.” he said, showing me his phone. “This is the picture she sent me this morning.”
An image of a light skinned goddess, with flawless skin and features, stares back at me. “I think this picture was meant for your eyes only!” I tease Dili, as the top she is wearing is revealing almost all of her cleavage. “She’s very pretty!”
“She is. That’s why I had to get engaged to her before leaving Nigeria. I had to lock her down, you know.” he said. “I also had to give her the assurance that I wouldn’t forget her when I get here. I had to prove to her that I’m not anything like my father.”
“So what happened when you got to the States?” I asked, eager to change the topic from Onyeka.
“I found out the hard way that my visiting visa was not going to get me any legitimate work. I also found out the hard way that friends only have a very limited amount of time before they start to get irritated by your presence…especially if you’re not bringing anything to the table. I did a few odd jobs here and there, but nothing really clicked. I had to leave when someone I was trying to get to hire me threatened to report me to immigration. That was when someone suggested I come here to New York.”
I sighed inwardly. If he was having a hard time in California, then he was bound to have an even harder time here in New York. “And how has that been?”
“Worse.” he said. “Much worse. My visa has expired now. I can’t even get a menial job to do. I’m out of money. My friend who’s been housing me is already giving me hints to leave. It’s been really difficult.”
My heart went out to him. “That’s horrible, Dili. Why don’t you just go back to Nigeria?”
“I haven’t sent money back since I got here. The consolation has always been that I’ll get a great opportunity here that will make up for everything. If I go back home worse off than when I left, wouldn’t that be tragic?” he lamented, before shrugging. “Anyways, I’m off to see a guy about the possibility of driving his cab for him. If that works, that will be something at least.”
“I really hope it works out!” I said, before reaching into my wallet and handing him my card and $100. “I wish I had more on me, but just hang on to this for now. The card has my phone numbers, so call me anytime you need anything, okay?”
Dili reached across the table and hugged me tightly. “You don’t know how much of a difference this will make for me, Ezi! It means I’ll actually be able to have a proper meal today!”
We hugged tightly and parted with the promise to keep in touch.
But he remained on my mind for the rest of the day. Even when I got home and sat before my laptop to write my article, he was still there. I could think of nothing else.
And then I was hit with the most radical of ideas. I tried to laugh off an idea so ludicrous, but the more I did, the more evident it was to me that it was the only way to help him.
Reaching for my laptop, I typed the song title that perfectly described how I was feeling now.
There She Goes (Six Pence None The Richer) – April 18, 2014
There she goes
There she goes again
Racing through’ my brain
And I just can’t contain
This feelin’ that remains.
There she blows
There she blows again
Pulsing through my vein
And I just can’t contain
This feelin’ that remains
Love is an immortal beast. It never dies, no matter how much you try to kill it…or for how long you try to stifle it. True love is immortal.
True love can bring out the little girl you have inside you…the one who has given out her heart to someone unable to reciprocate. Just when you think you’ve been able to kill her off….there she goes again!
I paused as I wrote, before smiling and shaking my head.
There she goes about to do something really and truly stupid!
Catch up on Ezioma’s story here: