We landed in Asaba shortly after 5, and by the time our taxi pulled into the driveway of the family house in Ogwashi, I couldn’t help but marvel over the fact that it was actually beginning to feel like home.
“Nno oh!” chimed some neighbours, as Anuli and I filed out of the car. “Welcome!”
I waved back happily, surprised over how familiar it all now felt to me. Even though we’d been away for only 2 nights, Aunty Ekwi seemed very excited to have us back, and bombarded us with questions, as we sat to dinner of boiled yam and palm oil. I guess she hadn’t been excited enough to cook up a real feast.
“Your fiancé from London came to Nigeria to see you?” she asked.
I shook my head. “He wasn’t my fiancé, Aunty.”
“And you traveled all the way to Lagos to tell him you’re no longer interested?” she continued, ignoring my correction. “Why on earth would you do that? Won’t you regret it when you return to London? Or do you think Amobi is going to marry you? He’s not going to oh!”
I smiled at my Aunt. “Why would you think that?”
“I know Doctor Amobi’s type. And I also know the kind of girls men like that end up marrying.” the old woman answered. “His parents are very traditional, and they have expectations of him…”
“And they don’t include a heavily tattooed girl from East London, right?” I quipped.
“Aunty, you don’t know anything!” Anuli interjected. “If there’s anyone that should be selective, it’s Golibe. Who even wants to marry from that quarter albino family anyway?!”
“Nobody is talking about marriage, so can we please drop it.” I said. “Dozie and I had already reached the end of our relationship. Whether or not it works out with Amobi is another thing entirely.”
Lying in bed that night, I knew the real reason I no longer cared if Amobi and I broke up or not. What I had felt for him had been mere infatuation. Nothing more than a crush. But what was brewing for Duke was something way deeper…
I fought the urge to call him, to check if he and spoken with James as planned. It had been over 24 hours since we’d spoken, and I’d hoped to have heard from him by then. Just when I was about to give up hope, my phone rang. With my heart in my mouth, I reached for it. Only for my hopes to come crashing down when I saw the name of the caller.
“Hey.” I answered, trying to muster enthusiasm.
“Hello beautiful!” he cooed. “How was Lagos? Did you see your relative as planned?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I did.” I answered.
“I really missed you. These last two days have been the longest ever! Can I see you tonight?”
“It’s late, Amobi. And I’m already tired.” I answered. “Maybe tomorrow?”
“I can live with tomorrow.” was his coy response. “Sweet dreams, my queen!”
Terminating the call, I found myself slightly irritated by how cheesy he always sounded. Apart from all the cooing of sweet nothings, the truth was that the two of us had little or nothing to say to each other.
I was about to return my phone to the night stand, when it rang again. This time, I wasn’t disappointed.
“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t call.” I said, a small smile playing on my lips.
“I wanted to give you some time to relax after your trip.“ came Duke’s silky voice. “It must have been stressful. And I don’t mean physical. Ending a relationship is never an easy thing to do.”
I couldn’t help but think how he would know best, considering it was taking him three years to get over his last one.
“It wasn’t as hard as you think.” I muttered. “Were you able to speak with James?”
“Yes, I sure did. I called him immediately after we spoke. And, as expected, he was thrilled!” Duke answered. “He’ll be in Ogwashi tomorrow, so I was wondering maybe they could meet sometime in the evening?”
“Sounds like a plan.” I said. “One more thing though. Anuli wants us both to be there. I guess she’s afraid of being left alone with him.”
“What’s important is for her to give him some face time. I’m sure he won’t mind an audience. It beats not being able to speak with her at all.” he answered sagely.
The next day, Saturday, Anuli and I performed the chores around the house. I’d told her of my conversation with Duke before we went to bed, and she was a ball of nerves from the minute she opened her eyes in the morning, throwing in all her energy to the house chores, scrubbing floors with such intensity, I was worried the tiles would peel right off.
By 6pm, we started preparing to go the bar, for the meeting with James…and Duke. I was surprised that my cousin opted not to go for her usual flamboyant wigs and loud makeup, but instead sleeked her hair back in a simple bun, with only a touch of mascara and lip gloss on her face. I, on the other hand, decided to make a bit more of an effort, choosing a gypsy dress I hadn’t worn in all the 7 weeks I’d been in town, and spending a little more time applying makeup.
“Na wa oh! One would think you’re the one with the appointment!” Anuli remarked. “Or is Amobi meeting you there?”
Luckily, Amobi was stuck at work, so it meant I wouldn’t have to see him that night. I didn’t answer Anuli’s question, as I rolled on my lipstick, and luckily, she was too nervous to prod any further.
Getting to the bar, we saw that it wasn’t busy yet. Peering in, Duke and James hadn’t arrived, but just as I was about to walk in, Anuli grabbed my hand.
“I need to go for a walk. I need to gather some strength.” she said, her whole body quivering. “Speak with him first, and tell me what you think. I’ll join you guys later.”
And with that, she scurried off like a frightened mouse. I looked at her as she left, perplexed by her behaviour…until it suddenly dawned on me. She wasn’t afraid of James. She was afraid of her feelings for him. The realisation made me sympathise with her all the more, and also all the more determined to see for myself if the James was real…or a fraud.
Exchanging pleasantries with a few of the patrons, I sat at our favourite table, located on the far extreme of the room. It had a vantage enough position to give one full view of the bar, whilst remaining pseudo incognito. I was barely seated for a few minutes, before Duke and James walked in. James looked pretty much the same as the last time I saw him, albeit a more nervous version. But Duke…He looked like a breath of fresh air. There was nothing different about his appearance. His afro was still high and a tad dishevelled, and his beard still left his face almost fully covered, and he wore one of the floral print shirts he seemed to favour…
But there was something about him today that took all my breath away. I think it was the realisation that I wasn’t merely curious of, or intrigued by him. Somewhere along the line, the curiosity and intrigue had given way to something deeper.
“Hi Golibe.” he said, smiling as they approached the table. “You look astonishing!”
I smiled, glad my hard work had paid off. “Thank you.”
James looked around nervously. “Where is Anuli?”
“She’ll join us shortly.” was my own short answer, motioning for him to sit.
“I’m going to be very direct.” I said, once he’d taken a seat. “I’m not going to beat around the bush. Anuli isn’t convinced of your motives. She is suspicious of you, and the fact that you and Tagbo are probably having a laugh together about the whole thing!”
“That couldn’t be farther from the truth!” James exclaimed. “Tagbo and I are no longer friends. In fact, the last time I saw him, it was our fists that did more of the talking!”
“Then why come after her, when she not only dated your friend…or former friend…but even had a child with him?”
“Tagbo knew I liked Anuli. He knew I liked her a whole lot. One minute, he was giving me advice about how to approach her, the next minute, he’d taken his own advice and approached her himself.” James answered sombrely. “When I saw that they had clicked, I decided to step back. I was very timid back then, and didn’t think I stood a chance where Tagbo was concerned. Besides, he was my friend, so I decided to just let things be.” he shrugged. “I had to play the supportive friend when he got her pregnant that first time that led to her expulsion, when they reignited their love in FUTO, when she got pregnant again…I had to be the supportive one. But when Chigozie was born, and when Tagbo and his family started to mistreat her, it killed me. That’s why I made it a point of duty to see them, Anuli and Chigozie, as often as I could. When time came for me to leave for the States, I almost got into a fight with my father, because I just didn’t want to go. In the end, I had no choice but to leave.”
“It must have been a hard decision to make.” I said compassionately.
“It was. It’s one of the reasons I blame myself for Chigozie’s death. If I’d been around, maybe she would have had the money to give him the right treatment.” James said sadly. “Hearing about his death put a strain on my relationship with Tagbo. We were in skeletal touch when I was in America, with intermittent letters and phone calls now and then. But the nonchalant way he reacted to the death, and what he and his family did to Anuli afterwards, I just couldn’t deal. So, I cut him off for a long time.” he shrugged. “When I returned to Nigeria and got the job with Chevron, you know how it is, everyone started swarming around me, thinking I was swimming in cash. Tagbo, in particular, because he wasn’t doing well at all. He was struggling to hold down a job, and was already on his second marriage, with five kids to take care of. But I always put him at arm’s length, mainly because of what he did to Anuli. When Anuli and I ran into each other here in Ogwashi two years ago, it felt like God had finally compensated me for all the years of waiting and suffering. I was still just as in love with her then, as the first time I saw her in 1986! We talked, reminisced about old times…and then, one thing led to another…” there was a lengthy pause, as he retreated into himself, reliving again what he was saying. “It was the most beautiful thing in the world, and the next morning, I was the happiest man ever. No woman had ever come to close to Anuli for me. I’d never been able to love anyone like her. I was so happy to have finally gotten the love of my life…only for her to attack me. Yelling and screaming about how I’d tricked her into bed, and how Tagbo and I wanted to make a fool of her!”
“But you have to understand why she would think that.” I said, trying to make him see things from Anuli’s perspective.
“I do. Which is why I didn’t push or insist. I tried to give her space, but anytime I reached out, she would be frantic and almost ballistic. Before I knew it, she’d blocked all my numbers, and anytime I made any attempt to reach her, she got more agitated each time. You saw what happened when I was at your house a few weeks ago.”
I sure did.
“Earlier this year, I ran into Tagbo at a mutual friend’s 40th birthday party, in Asaba. He was already drunk, but somehow still had the presence of mind to accuse me of dumping our friendship because of a ‘worthless woman’.” he smiled ruefully and shook his head. “It’s like something in me snapped. I think it was the combination of the anger that he was calling Anuli names, and the frustration of her shutting me out of her life..whatever the case, I beat him black and blue.”
Duke laughed. “I heard about how it took five hefty guys to rescue Tagbo from you.”
“I hear you, James.” I interjected. “But what exactly do you want from her?”
He didn’t even a miss a beat. “I want to marry her.”
Now I couldn’t argue with than!
My heart warmed to him, and I could see that he was not playing any games at all. From the corner of my eye, I spotted Anuli loitering at the door, and I leaned closer to James. “Go to her.”
He looked up and saw her, and immediately rose to his feet. Her eyes widened in fear at the sight of him walking to her, and she gestured for Duke and I to come along, to which I gently shook my head. No, they didn’t need an audience for this discussion.
Duke smiled at me. “Thanks for setting this up, Golibe. That was very thoughtful of you.”
“I can’t take the credit.” I answered, the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. “Anuli was simply ready, that’s all.”
“But you supported and encouraged that decision. So, on behalf of James, I say thank you!”
I looked at him long and hard. “What happened to you, Duke? How did you end up in Ogwashi after being an investment banker in London? Is it true you had a nervous breakdown?”
He nodded. “Yes. Yes, I did.”
“Was it because of your wife?” I asked.
There was a lengthy pause, after which he nodded sombrely. “Yes, it was. It was a very harrowing time, and I was going through an awful lot. But as bad as things were with me personally, I actually thought I was holding it together. I threw myself into work headlong, using it to help me forget what was going on at home. I’d be at work as early as 6am in the morning, and leave at almost midnight…but slowly, I started spending longer and longer time at work, until it got to the point when I wasn’t leaving! The week it happened, I’d been at work for 4 straight days, in the same clothes…and stinking up a storm.” he added laughing.
“So, what happened?”
“There was a Client meeting, and I showed up in the conference room, dishevelled, and talking gibberish. When they tried to restrain me, I got violent, and they eventually had to send for an ambulance. I was taken out of the building in a straight jacket.” he answered, smiling sadly. “I was in the hospital for a while. And when my best friend, Kene, called to let my mother know, she insisted that I come home. So…here I am.”
“But that’s unfair!” I heard myself blurting. “You mean you lost your job because of it? Your friends just chose to abandon you here?!”
“I didn’t lose my job. At the time of the incident, I’d worked there about 14 years. We’d become like family, and they were even more distraught about the whole thing than I was.” he shrugged. “I’m on a leave of absence. I still have my job.”
“And your friends?!”
“They call me all the time. Kene literally calls me every other day.” Duke answered, smiling. “So, don’t worry your pretty little head, Golibe. I wasn’t cast away like an old rag.”
I couldn’t even bring myself to speak, so disarmed was I by his smile. We both just sat there, looking at each other.
And just when I opened my mouth to say something, we were rocked by the deafening sound of an explosion, which threw us both off our seats. The gas cylinder behind the thin wall that separated the kitchen from the bar had exploded, taking down with it the flimsy partition wall. I sat on the floor in a panic, as things went crazy around me. The curtains and thatch roof were burning, and there was pandemonium as people ran out of the room in a mad stampede, falling over each other. I tried to move, but found myself paralysed by my fear, as the thick flames suddenly surrounded me. From a very far distance, I could hear people shouting my name…Duke, Anuli…and James. But I remained immobile, petrified, completely surrounded by fire now.
And then in a flash, I was swept into strong arms, with the familiar floral shirt flung over my head, as we made our way out of the engulfment. As he carried me, and as his shirt gave me cover, as we made our way out of what was certain danger, I wrapped my hands around his shoulders, and nestled my head in his now bare chest. And I felt safe.
Soon, we were outside, and Duke refused to drop me, carrying me like a baby as Anuli fussed over me. Angry flames still raged, and we all watched as The Sunshine Spot went down in flames. But even in all the commotion of people trying to extinguish the fire, or looking for loved ones, all was beautiful in my own world, nestled in the arms of the man I was falling in love with, inhaling his beautiful scent. I could have stayed there forever…
But the night had other plans.
“Golibe!” came Amobi’s familiar voice, as he ran up to us, his eyes dark in what I couldn’t tell was fear over my condition…or anger over seeing me in Duke’s arms.
“She’s fine. Just a little shaken.” Duke answered.
“Let me have her.” Amobi demanded.
“Like I said, she’s a little shaken.” Duke said, through grit teeth. “I don’t think she should…”
Amobi didn’t allow him finish, as he grabbed me from Duke’s arms. As he carried me, he stumbled back, clearly struggling with my weight, prompting a shrill shriek from Anuli.
“You better not drop her!”
Without even bothering with an answer, he stumbled with me to his car, and half positioned, half threw me into the front seat, before getting into it and driving off.
Somehow, I didn’t think he was taking me to the hospital…
Catch up on Golibe’s story here:
- Golibe 1: The Journey
- Golibe 2: Brave
- Golibe 3: Blood Relative
- Golibe 4: Strangers
- Golibe 5: Fill the Gaps
- Golibe 6: Awele
- Golibe 7: Frolicking
- Golibe 8: The Trunk
- Golibe 9: Retrace my steps
- Golibe 10: The Exchange
- Golibe 11: Quoting Shakespeare
- Golibe 12: Dead End
- Golibe 13: Something in the Water
- Golibe 14: Intoxicated Butterflies
- Golibe 15: The Boyfriend
- Golibe 16: Anuli
- Golibe 17: Masters of their fate
- Golibe 18: Ex-Wife
- Golibe 19: Falling
Catch up on our other series here: