Dili’s Madufuro friend doesn’t call me for another week, but it is long enough for me to lose whatever interest I’ve managed to muster. All I can imagine is some Igbotic guy with an accent just as bad as his dress sense. Especially after speaking with Onyeka, I find my perception of Dili’s crowd somewhat altered. Maybe if I wasn’t seeing him through the eyes of my childhood infatuation, he would also appear razz and local to me.
Every day Dili asks me if Madufuro has called, and every day I happily answer in the negative. The truth is I really don’t need his pity and can very well find a guy of my own if I’m serious about it. But having lied to all my friends that I have married, not to help out a friend, but out of love, I find myself handicapped and unable to socialize as I ordinarily would. I have to accept that I am probably going to be hopelessly single until this arrangement with Dili is over.
Alas, the dreaded call comes by weekend. Having forgotten all about it, I erroneously assume the call from the European number is my sister, Ebere. With the way she and her husband hop from one exotic European location to the other, all in the name of a holiday, I can’t really blame myself for the assumption. Alas, it isn’t Ebere but finally Dr. Madufuro.
“Hi. Am I speaking with Ezioma?” comes a soft-spoken voice, which is nothing like I’d imagined.
“Yes, this is Ezioma.”
“Hi. My name is Madu. Dili gave me your number.” he says, and I am pleasantly surprised to realize he is nervous, and not arrogant like I thought he’d be.
We have a pleasant discussion, with him telling me all the nice things Dili has told him about me. He also admits to having me looked me up online and is extremely impressed by what he’s seen. Having no knowledge about him beyond his first name, or the fact that he is a doctor and lives in New Jersey, I proceed to ask him questions about himself and find out that even though he started out at FUTO, he’d left for the States in his 2nd Year, where he’d qualified as a doctor. At 39, he is two years older than I am and I hate to admit that he is ticking all my boxes.
“6 months! That’s a long time!” I remark.
“Look, I know this is the first time we’re speaking, but I think there’s something here. However, I don’t want to keep you hanging for all the time I’ll be here in Europe. So I’m not going to call again until March next year, when I’m about to leave for home. If I’m lucky and some guy hasn’t swooped you up yet, I’d be glad for us to continue the conversation from here.”
It actually sounds like a fantastic idea to me. At this age of mine, I am way too old for any telephone love across the sea. If when he gets back to town I’m still available, we can always see where this leads.
But Dili is less than impressed when I tell him. “I don’t understand. You guys have agreed not to talk until next year?!”
“What’s the use? He’s not in town for another 5 plus months. Why waste each other’s time, not to mention phone bill money!”
Dili raises his hands in surrender, and I can tell he thinks neither Madu nor I are serious. But I actually respect Madu for it. Just because Dili and Onyeka are happy to carry on an infinite long distant relationship, doesn’t mean the rest of us are.
The months roll by, and it is soon Christmas. No matter how sad or depressed I am in December, I am always cheered up by the typical New York festivities. The lights, the carols on every corner, the wonderful chill in the air, the snow if we’re lucky…it is unarguably my favourite time of the year. Even though December 20 is always tough for me, as it is the anniversary of my baby sister’s death, generally it is the time of year I love the most. This is an even better year for us as Dili just passed his PMP certification exam, so definitely a lot to celebrate.
On December 23, he asks me to accompany him for his friend’s annual Christmas party, on the Upper East Side. Apparently, both the friend and the wife have their birthdays this Christmas week, so they have a combined party every year to celebrate it. Having dodged his invitations to meet his friends all year long, I feel obliged to accept this one.
“How come this friend of yours didn’t help you out when you were having a hard time?” I ask as we leave our apartment. With an address like that, his friend is definitely not a pauper.
“Nnamdi actually helped me out with about $1,000 when I first got to New York.” Dili says in his friend’s defence. “The truth is he’s not making as much as he used to. He lost a lot of money in the global financial crisis, and he and his wife are just making the most of whatever they can get from his real estate business and his wife’s book publishing.”
I nod in understanding. The story of pretty much half of New York!
We get into the taxi, and I am excited anew by the sights and sounds of Christmas everywhere.
“Don’t you just love Christmas?” I exclaim, feeling like a little girl experiencing the holiday for the first time.
Dili shrugs and smiles. “Obviously not as much as you do. Before I left Nigeria, it was really no big deal…and last Christmas, I was having such a hard time in LA, it was hard to find anything about the holiday to smile about!”
“Well, you’re going to enjoy this one. I’ll make sure of it!”
He smiles back at me, and we ride in silence for a few moments. “One thing I love about going to visit Nnamdi is his piano. He has this grand piano in his living room, and just being able to play it makes me forget every and anything.”
“You play the piano?” I exclaim.
“Since I was a kid. As a matter of fact, you’re the reason we all learnt to play. Don’t tell me you don’t play any instrument!”
I shrug. “I did for a short while, but I dropped it when it was proving to be such a distraction for me at school.” I look at him, his words suddenly dawning on me. “What do you mean I was the reason you all learnt to play?”
Dili laughs. “My father used you as the benchmark for everything. He would always come home and yell at me, especially, about what fantastic feat Ezioma had achieved. It was always how Ezioma had done this, passed that, excelled at this, accomplished that. To be honest, I hated you!”
I squeal with laughter. “And there I was thinking you didn’t even notice me.”
“Notice you? You were a thorn in my flesh!” Dili laughs. “The worst was when you got good enough grades to get you into Queens College on Merit, whereas I couldn’t even manage to get a place to Kings College on quota. My Dad never let me hear the last of it, and made me feel I was a failure by only managing to get accepted into Saint Greg’s. Or how about when you smashed your SATs and got a scholarship to America, while I went ahead to fail my own JAMB that year? The old man didn’t let me hear the last of it!”
I giggle, very tickled by this information. It feels good to know that I was held in such high esteem in their home, even though nobody showed it to me.
We soon arrive at the impressive apartment building on 59th Street and Madison Avenue. It is clear that once upon a time, Dili’s friend indeed had a lot of money. Getting to their condo on the 37th floor, I am impressed by the opulence of the place. Just like Dili said, grandstanding in the middle of their expansive and expensively furnished living room is a magnificent piano, the kind one would see in Hollywood movies. But a Naija party will always be a Naija party, as the blare of The Mavins’ Dorobucci overshadows the condo’s uptown luxury.
“Ezioma!” Nnamdi exclaims, hugging me like we are old pals. “It’s so good to finally meet you! Thanks so much for what you are doing for my brother!”
I am introduced to Nnamdi’s wife, Azuka, and I am pleasantly surprised to see she is a familiar face from my early party-hopping Manhattan days. As the party progresses, I find myself paired with Azuka and a few other wives and girlfriends, almost all of whom are Nigerian, and thankfully not the nose-in-the-air, stuck-up kind you’d typically run into in Manhattan. These women are extremely down-to-earth and so funny, I am soon in stitches listening to their stories.
Ever so often, I steal glances across the room to where Dili and the other men are playing Snooker. He is also enjoying his company and I am glad to see him having a good time. He has come such a long way from when I first ran into him months ago, and looks so much better; fresher and more relaxed. It is amazing what difference a few months can make.
I look up to see Azuka studying me intently. I force a smile and look away, suddenly feeling flushed. She probably knows of Onyeka and must think me foolish gaping at Dili like that that.
“Ezi, do you want to give me a hand in the kitchen? I need to dish dessert.” she says, rising to her feet.
Knowing she absolutely doesn’t need my help, I trudge along anyway. Just as I expected, her kitchen is full of all sorts of hands doing one thing or the other, but she takes a tray of chocolate truffles and macarons from one of the caterers and starts idly arranging the treats by size and colour.
“It’s a wonderful thing you’re doing for Dili.” she says, smiling at me. “When Nnamdi told me about it, I couldn’t believe Dili’s luck. Finding someone he doesn’t have to pay to help him with his Green Card, AND also give him free accommodation here in Manhattan? The guy won the jackpot!”
I shrug. “We go way back. He’s like family to me.”
She smiles at me. “You’re sure? I saw the way you were looking at him just now, and you weren’t looking at him like a brother.”
I force myself to laugh. “Dili is exactly like a brother to me…nothing more. Besides, he even has a fiancée back in Nigeria.”
Her smile doesn’t waver. “Just be careful, Ezi. We’re not as hard as guys can be. Try not to get carried away, okay? I like you, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
Her words are still ringing in my head as we make our way back to the living room. I am so deep in thought that I don’t hear Dili walk up to me. “Where have you been, Ezi? I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“I had to help Azuka with a few things.” I mutter as he takes me by the hand and leads me to the piano.
“I told you this is my favourite part of coming here.” he says, taking a seat. “And you haven’t heard me play before.”
I sit beside him. “So you want to play the piano above P-Square singing in the background.”
He smiles coyly as his fingers start to play what I can clearly make out to be Stevie Wonder’s Knocks Me Off My Feet.
I see us in the park
Strolling the summer days of imaginings in my head
And words from our hearts
Told only to the wind felt even without being said
I don’t want to bore you with my trouble
But there’s somethin’ ‘bout your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet
I stare at him as he sings, completely mesmerised. For me, the whole world stops and I realize that I am just as in love with him as the first day I saw him…maybe even more deeply. The party continues around us, and the DJ continues spinning his Naija tracks, but for me…for me, it might as well be just us two in the room.
“Wow!” I say, when he is done playing. “That was amazing. You play so well! And that’s one of my favourite songs ever.”
“Yeah? It’s Onyeka’s favourite as well. She loves it when I sing it to her.” he answers, beaming.
And that brings me crashing right back to earth.
I look up in time to catch Azuka’s eye, and she shakes her head at me. It appears we are the only two people in the room who know that I have lost my heart to Okwudili Dike.
I excuse myself to go to the Ladies Room, and while there, I look at my reflection in the mirror for a long time. “What the hell is wrong with you, Ezioma?!” I demand from my reflection. “You better get a grip of yourself!”
“I don’t know why you are wasting your time with that girl in Nigeria!” Nnamdi says to him. “You’ve gotten yourself a sweet catch! The babe owns her own apartment here in Manhattan, is a Director with Goldman, isn’t bad looking…what do you want again?”
“Exactly what I was thinking! You nor dey see her type everyday!” says Udeme, another friend of theirs.
“Guys, it’s not like that with Ezi and I.” Dili says. “She’s like a sister to me. And she knows my heart is back home in Nigeria.”
I decide to make my presence known and emerge as if I haven’t been standing behind them, eavesdropping on their conversation. We make some more small talk before we finally leave the place a little before midnight.
I am quiet all through the taxi ride home, citing a headache for the change in my mood. Settled in my room, I lie awake for hours, thinking of Dili singing that Stevie Wonder song…a song he apparently also sings to the woman who has his heart.
Unable to sleep and uninterested in writing my article, I go to the living room at about 2am and proceed to watch old episodes of my favourite show, Sex and the City.
“What are you doing up at this time of night?” Dili asks, emerging from his bedroom.
“I’m sorry, did the noise wake you?” I ask in concern.
“Nah. I was on the phone with Onyeka.” he answers, taking a seat next to me. “She and her family are headed to Umuahia this morning, so she called me when they were about to leave the house.”
I shrug, trying to act bored by that piece of information…and not like knowing he’s been on the phone with Onyeka for hours isn’t boring a hole in my heart.
“Sex and the City! Why do you ladies love this show so much? Onyeka can watch it from morning to night!” he remarks.
I shrug again, wishing this time he’d just return to his bedroom instead of bombarding with this endless talk of Onyeka.
“But I see why you’d like it though. I see the Carrie Bradshaw link….the designer shoes, the fancy clothes, the column writing…” he says, a rueful smile on his face. “You two are just alike!”
This time, I can’t help but smile. “Really? Carrie Bradshaw is the ultimate for me! She’s my ultimate inspiration. When I first moved to Manhattan, she was the one I modelled my life around. And as for being as glamorous as her…I wish!”
“Oh but you are! There’s no difference between you both. She’s also not that pretty but dresses just as stylishly!” he says, before realising his goof too late. “I didn’t mean it that way…”
The funny thing is I don’t even take offence. “No need to stammer, Dili!” I laugh. “You are indeed correct. Neither Carrie nor I are that pretty. Maybe that’s why I can relate with her so well!”
“I’m really sorry, Ezi. I didn’t mean it the way it came out. You are a very pretty girl…”
“In my own way. I know.” I answer, smiling at him.
“I better go back to bed before I allow my sleepy brain put my mouth into more trouble.” he mumbles. “Try not to stay up too late. It’s Christmas Eve.”
When his door is shut, the smile fades from my face, and I have lost interest in even the Sex and the City I am using to console myself. Rising to my feet, I walk to my study table and pull open my laptop. I try to think up a song, any song, I can use as my song of the day, but all that keeps playing in my head over and over again is the song Dili played at the party.
Knocks Me Off My Feet (Stevie Wonder) – December 24, 2014
…We lay beneath the stars
Under a lovers tree that’s seen through the eyes of my mind
I reach out for the part
Of me that lives in you that only our two hearts can find
But I don’t want to bore you with my trouble
But there’s somethin’ ‘bout your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet
There’s somethin’ ‘bout your love
That makes me weak and
Knocks me off my feet
Knocks me off my feet
I don’t want to bore you with it
Oh but I love you, I love you, I love you
I am about to write the narrative for the article when I see a notification for a comment on a previous post.
You’ve been referencing a lot of soppy songs lately. Very unlike your usual. Sounds like you’re in love.
I pause as I stare at the comment. My first inclination is to ignore it, but besides the fact I never ignore any sort of interaction or feedback on my columns, something about the question tugs at me. I guess because I know the writer is correct…and that I am in love…even though I have been trying to shake it off for months…or even years…even though the object of my affection is head over heels in love with another…even though he has just told me to my face that he doesn’t even find me attractive…
You’re actually correct! I see myself writing. I am in love. As a matter of fact, I just got married!
Heck, I might not be able to have him in real life…but nobody can take him away from me in the land of make believe, can they?
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