“Happy birthday, Isio. This is Pere.”
My mouth went dry, and my hands trembled as I held the phone. But I willed my voice to stay steady.
“Thank you.” I answered. “It’s been a long time. How have you been?”
“Very well, thank you. I got back a few weeks ago.”
“That’s great.” I said casually. “Welcome back then.”
“So…30, huh? That’s a big one. Congratulations!” he continued, like we were old friends. “Mine was last year.”
“Yes I know that, Pere!” I said impatiently. “Thanks for calling. It was very thoughtful of you, but I have to go now. Voke and I are going out.”
“Hey, Isio…please, before you hang up…I was wondering if we could catch up over lunch, dinner, or even just drinks sometime. There’s a lot I want to say.” he said imploringly.
In the rudest of flashbacks, I remembered very vividly the morning after our night together, and all the insults he had hurled at me…and I found myself getting very angry.
“I don’t think so. Everything you had to tell me, you already did. Thank you for calling…and welcome back home.” and with that, I terminated the call.
But it had already tainted my mood, and by the time Voke and I left, first for dinner, and then to the club Auto Lounge with a few of our friends, I had lost all my zeal to party.
“Don’t worry, it’s like that when you turn 30!” Voke consoled, as we drove back home in the early hours of the morning. “I had a few sober moments on mine as well. But I promise you, the 30s are the best!”
I didn’t even bother telling her about Pere’s call. Instead, I smiled politely and tried to push the whole encounter out of my head. Except it remained there like a stubborn stain, refusing to go anywhere.
The following Monday, as I made my way to my car after work, I was shocked to find Pere standing there.
“I just took a chance. I wasn’t sure if you still worked here.” he said, smiling nervously.
I knew I should have been angry, but standing in front of him that evening, I was awash with all sorts of emotions; anger, resentment, hurt, embarrassment…but also nostalgia and longing. Seeing him again took me right back to 2004, when we had still been a couple, and I couldn’t help but marvel over the fact that, despite all the time that had passed, he was still the same Pere I had fallen in love with over 15 years before.
“What do you want?” I asked, drained of energy.
“An hour of your time, Isio. That’s all. You don’t even have to ride in my car, if you don’t want to. You can drive behind me, that’s fine.” Pere pleaded. “I just desperately need to tell you a few things.”
I sighed deeply. The truth is I was also very curious to hear what it was he even had to say, so I reluctantly agreed to drive behind him to a small pub in Victoria Island.
When we got there, we sat awkwardly.
“A gin and tonic for you?” he asked, when the waiter came to take our orders.
“Nothing alcoholic, thank you.” I answered. I wanted to be in full possession of my faculties. No way did I want to wake up and find myself in his bed!
We made idle talk until our drinks were served; a Chapman for me and a beer for him. After almost 30 minutes of idle chat, he finally got straight to the point.
“Listen, Isio. I just wanted to apologise for the things I said to you in my apartment. I didn’t mean any of them.” he began, looking intently at me. “I was just acting out because I hated the fact that, despite everything, I still loved you the way I did.”
Now that one I hadn’t seen coming. I looked at him with a raised brow. “Oh really? You could have fooled me, because you sure sounded like you meant every single word!”
“I had no ulterior motives approaching you that evening, when you were with Obiora and Voke. And even when I took you home and we spent the night together, it was the very thing I’d been dreaming about since we broke up. But when I woke up the following morning, as I watched you sleep, all I could think of was how you’d left me for another man, and it killed me anew. It was also worsened by the fact that, even as you slept, I still thought you were the most beautiful human being I had ever seen in my life.”
I looked at him, and every comeback and clap back I could have possibly come up with froze on my lips. I knew him well enough to know when he was lying. And this time, he wasn’t.
“So why are you telling me all this now?” I asked, my voice suddenly hoarse, despite my libation.
“Isio…I’m still in love with you. I have never stopped.” he said, holding my hand. “Even all the time that you dated Abdul. Even all the while I was in Paris, trying to start a fresh life. I have thought about you every single second of every single day. I love you, Isio. And I want us to try again.”
I was stunned speechless, but quickly found my voice. “You can’t expect me to believe that, Pere. Not after the way we ended. You can’t expect me not to think this is not some trap of yours…so that you can make me feel…how was it you put it that morning…naked, vulnerable and humiliated all over again!”
“Allow me prove it to you. Just give me a chance to show you that I’m serious.” he pleaded.
I shrugged. “I’ll have to think about it.”
“I can live with that.” he answered happily.
We spent the rest of the evening chatting about everything and anything. He told me all about his time in Paris, and how being away from the country for the first time was an eye opener for him. He also talked about how grateful he was for his job, and how it had given him the life he’d always dreamt of. And then we talked about Ejiro…and also Abdul.
“How could you not have known the guy is an atheist?!” Pere laughed. “The guy is a radical. I could tell that from the very first time I met him.”
“I think I was just young and stupid…and on the rebound. Because truly, the signs were there.” I laughed along with him.
“Very arrogant asshole, I’m sorry to say!” Pere said, his laughter subsiding. “He took a lot of pleasure in humiliating me, especially after you must have told him of our history.”
“I’m really sorry about that day…” I said, wincing, knowing he knew exactly which day I was referring to.
“That was just one of many. The guy is a bully. I heard he was asked to leave the bank eventually.” Pere continued.
I gasped. “No way! Why?”
“Something about being rude to a Customer.” Pere answered. “Apparently, he’d been doing it for a long time, but this particular Customer had the ear of the MD, so…” he made a slashing gesture to his throat.
“Look at us gossiping like old women!” I laughed.
“Just like old times.” he said, and suddenly, all the laughter vanished, as well as everyone else in the bar…and it was just the two of us…Pere and I.
That was when I realized that I too had never stopped loving him. Not when I was with Ejiro…not when I was with Abdul…and surely not when I was with Collins. It had always been Pere.
“I’m not sleeping with you though.” I said suddenly. “No more sex for me until I get married.”
He smiled. “I can also live with that…especially as you’re going to be my wife anyway.”
And then we kissed, and all the years of hatred, anger, malice and heartbreak melted away.
By the time I got home, I was literally walking on clouds. Voke had mixed feelings about the whole thing.
“I know Obiora always used to say he knew Pere still loved you…but I’m not sure, Isio.” Voke said, concerned. “Are you sure he won’t still wake up one day, and start giving you a hard time because of the other guys?”
I shrugged. “It’s a risk. But we’ve decided we’re not having sex, so even if he does, the collateral damage won’t be too much.”
“You might not be having sex, but what about your heart, Isio? Do you want to be heartbroken again?”
I shrugged. The truth is, at that point, I was ready to take the gamble if it meant being reunited with the love of my life.
The next day, Pere came to our house after work, and finally won Voke over. The three of us gisted late into the night, and after a private conversation with my sister, was able to convince her that his motives were pure.
Not having sex proved harder than we imagined it to be, but no matter how tempted I was anytime I visited his nice apartment in Lekki, all it took was for me to remember the insults Collins had hurled at me, how I had been called a ‘twisting and winding slut’, and my legs remained closed. Pere tried to make me change my mind a few times, but my resolve was firm. There was absolutely no way in hell I was going to do that to myself again!
After being together a couple of months, we had started skirting around the topic of marriage. It was something we both wanted, but we both also needed a bit more time. Despite our renewed love, a few times, the old wounds threatened to open. There were still a few times during arguments that I would reference Daisy, or he would reference Ejiro or Abdul. Even though we always apologised profusely afterwards, it was clear we still had a lot of work to do to be able to forget the past.
But alas, unfortunately, we just couldn’t.
The first major crack happened when he came to pick me up from work, and found me chatting with one of our expatriate Engineers from the U.S. A tall, dark and handsome former Marine, Nathan was an extremely good-looking man. As Pere approached us, I saw his face cloud, and even when I introduced him as my boyfriend, his face was still as rigid and strong as Olumo Rock.
“So, is that my replacement?!” he snapped, as we drove to my flat. “He looks just like that your Ejiro guy. In fact, he’s just the way you like them…handsome and rich!”
“Nathan is almost 50, and very married!” I exclaimed. “And the fancy car with the mobile policemen are not his, but the company’s.”
“Oh, so if he wasn’t almost 50 or married…and if the ‘fancy car and mobile policemen’ were his?! You wouldn’t be here?!” had been Pere’s comeback.
And that’s how we fought about Nathan all the way to my place, and for days after that. Even when the Nathan returned to States, it didn’t end there. If I made the mistake of looking at another guy, wahala. When I was on my phone, he wanted to know who with. It soon got a bit too much for me.
But if I’m to be honest, he wasn’t the only culprit.
Alas, the incident with Daisy had put a dent in my self-esteem with him, and despite the fact he repeatedly said he had only been with her to get back at me, it still did little to shake the fact that he had left me…for a light skinned girl. And for some reason, he seemed surrounded by them…light skinned girls. His colleague with whom he made frequent trips to their company’s offshore locations, was a mixed race girl called Naomi. It didn’t help that the two of them were extremely close, and enjoyed spending as much time together outside work as well.
“Naomi is just like a guy, Isio! She doesn’t even wear any makeup!” he would always exclaim. “She’s my paddy! Nothing else.”
“A paddy that texts you at midnight and odd hours of the day?!” was always my retort.
“She’s having man troubles, Isio!” “She needs me to speak with her mechanic.” “She wanted to ask me for my opinion on what to get as a gift for her dad.” there was always a ‘good reason’ for why Naomi was always in the picture.
For me, it was Daisy all over again.
We continued like that for months until one evening, sitting in his living room after yet another heated argument about some man I was supposedly flirting with at the grocery store, which was followed by another heated one about Naomi, we were both spent…exhausted!
“This isn’t working.” I said sadly. “We can’t keep on fighting like this. You don’t trust me…and it appears I don’t trust you either.”
Pere looked at me with sad eyes, as it was clear that our relationship had way too much baggage to stand a chance of surviving.
“I love you, Isio. But try as I might, all I see when you’re with other guys is you getting into that Ejiro guy’s car…or you standing with Abdul in the car park that day.”
“And all I can see is you and that Daisy!”
We looked at each other, and realised that we had unfortunately come to the end of the road.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever love anyone like you, Isio.” Pere said, hugging me tight. “Are you sure we shouldn’t try harder?”
I shook my head, detaching myself from him. I was only a few months from 31, and couldn’t afford to continue in a relationship headed nowhere.
But as I drove home, I wondered if I hadn’t made a mistake. I considered turning my car right around and going back to him…to tell him I was ready to work at it. But all I could think of were our incessant fights and quarrels.
We were both too broken…broken by each other…for our love to survive.
Catch up on Isio’s story here:
- Iya Beji 1: A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Iya Beji 2: Destiny Blocker
- Iya Beji 3: Daisy
- Iya Beji 4: Upgrade
- Iya Beji 5: Bleeding Love
- Iya Beji 6: The Beast
- Iya Beji 7: The Standby Guy
- Iya Beji 8: The Boss
- Iya Beji 9: The Deal Breaker
- Iya Beji 10: The Convert
- Iya Beji 11: Hiatus
Catch up on our other series here: