As 2007 drew to a close, I took stock of my life. I was about to turn 30, and I decided to take a minute to pause and reflect.
As much as I had a lot to be thankful for; good health, the most adorable son in the world, and a loving family (not including Dolly’s shenanigans, my flighty mother, or my complicated arrangement with my former in-laws), I knew there were also parts of my life that fell short. I didn’t particularly like my job, and I was struggling to cope with my long-distance Masters program. I also didn’t think that, compared with my peers, I had achieved much with career. Many of them were already Managers in their places of work, while I was there…in a job with no definition. As for having a man, that was still not a priority for me. I guess I wasn’t eager to suffer any more devastating heartbreak again in my life.
So,with the full support of my father, Daddy and Mama Jay, and of course Rire, in August 2008, I left for the UK, to face my Masters program full time, at the University of Warwick. While I missed my son something awful, I relished the opportunity of finally being able to live on my own. I loved my newfound freedom, and spent the year pursuing not only my academic goals, but also bettering myself as a person. I volunteered with several charity organizations, and travelled with my new friends all around Europe, anytime we had the chance. I absolutely had the time of my life.
The one person who hadn’t been amused by my decision had been, you guessed it…my mother dearest! After not having set eyes on her since she left to live with Aunty Titi in London, almost three years before, she showed up in my apartment in Coventry, a week after I arrived, obviously very angry.
“You mean you left your son in Nigeria? You left him with Jimi’s family?” she had exclaimed.
“They’re his grandparents too.” I’d answered, more out of respect than anything. Who did she think she was, showing up from nowhere and demanding answers.
“Are you a fool? Do you realize that they can deny you access to the boy permanently? How could you be so stupid?!” she’d shrieked, as if I’d killed someone.
I gave her a long, hard look, before willing myself to respond as politely as possible. A huge part of me wanted to tell her that not everyone was as scheming and conniving as she was, but thankfully, good judgement prevailed and I calmly explained that, not only was I certain that wasn’t going to happen, I was 100% confident that Rire was in the best of hands. I knew that statement hurt her, but hey…that wasn’t my fault. Nobody asked her not to make herself present in our lives; mine or Rire’s. Nobody asked her to disappear for years, making little or no contact with us. It wasn’t anybody’s fault that Mama Jay was the only grandmother Rire could truly identify with, neither was anyone to blame for the fact that I would much sooner leave my son with a pack of wolves than with my own mother.
Who was I kidding? Of course there was someone to blame…and that someone was the one making the loudest noise!
After that day, mom had returned to London and our relationship had resumed its strained nature, with wilted and infrequent phone conversations. As for what exactly she was doing in London, rumor had it that Aunty Titi had turned her into a glorified nanny for one of her daughters. According to the rumor mill, Aunty Titi was paying our mother, her older sister, less than minimum wage to take care of her grandchildren. So much for the life of luxury I’m sure she’d thought she would have with her ‘rich sister’.
Such a shame that the woman would prefer to stay in a strange town, putting herself through humiliation and ridicule, just to earn a few pennies, when she had grandchildren of her own that she didn’t even know.
By September 2009, I was done with my dissertation and returned to Nigeria, a much better and complete version of what I used to be. I was pleasantly surprised to see that my in-laws had tastefully refurbished our town house, and also got me a brand new car, a Honda CRV. I knew a lot of people, my friends inclusive, wondered why I was yet to severe the umbilical chord that attached me to Jimi’s family…but with gestures like that, I didn’t think I had to. Rire and I were happy…and very comfortable. And that was all that mattered.
About a month after I returned, I took up a job with one of the major advertising agencies. As it was quite a drastic career change for me, I had no choice but to start from the very bottom. So there I was, a 31 year old Executive Trainee…but I was loving every minute of it!
“It’s because you are still getting support from Jimi’s family. That’s why you accepted this kind of job!” Bimbo had snapped, irritable not only because of my decision, but as a result of her second pregnancy. “If you were depending on your salary to pay the bills, trust me when I say, career or not, you would have thought twice before taking this kind of pay cut!”
But I wasn’t phased.
“I need to be able to love what I do!” I explained. “I don’t ever want to go back to that time when it was a struggle for me pick myself out of bed and go to work. You have a job you like, so it’s easy for you!
Bimbo opened her mouth, as if to counter, before thinking against it. I knew it was hard for them to understand, but it was definitely what worked best for Rire and I.
That December, that Christmas, in a perfect test of whether or not I still had any feelings for him, Jimi returned home for the holidays.
We hadn’t seen each other since that unfortunate day, three years before, when I had shown up in his LA condo. Three years since my hopes and dreams had been dashed. But three years since I had learned how to live without him, and that he was just a regular human being, and not one I had to spend a lifetime longing for.
We’d embraced, as if nothing had ever happened. The years had also been good to him, and he was more toned and chiseled at 34 than he had been a decade ago.
“How have you been, Fola? Congratulations on getting your Masters!” he had beamed, obviously proud of me.
If I say that I felt completely neutral towards him, and that all my feelings were completely dead…I would be lying. But what made me pleased was that, for the most part, I was able to look him in the eye without my knees buckling.
“Fola…I have to apologize for the way I behaved a few years ago…” he said, his face apologetic. “I was a jerk when you came to LA to see me. I regret it. I know there are other ways I could have told you about Ava, instead of acting like a kid!”
He went on to say that he and Ava were no longer together, and that he’d been dating a Cuban lady, Rosaline, for a couple of months.
Again, I marveled over how calm I was, after hearing he’d been single for a while, before deciding to date again. It did nothing to me, finding out he was now potentially available.
But it surely did everything to Mama Jay.
“What are you doing here? Go to the living room and talk to your husband!” she had whispered enthusiastically. “Haven’t you heard he is now single?”
I shook my head and smiled. “Mommy, Jimi is not my husband! And besides he isn’t single. He has a girlfriend.”
Mama Jay leaned close. “Folabomi…mere details. All these oyibo girls with no culture? They are just a flash in the pan, as far as I’m concerned. Now is the time to make your move!”
“Mommy, I am not ‘making any move’. Let him live his life…while I live mine as well. We’re finally getting to a place where we can at least be friends, which will surely help us co-parent easier.”
Mama Jay stared at me like I’d grown a second head, before letting out a long hiss. “You’re just saying your own oh. If the two of you won’t do it, then I’ll do it myself!”
And she wasn’t kidding. For the rest of the Christmas holiday, Mama Jay was a complete nuisance, constantly pushing Jimi and I towards each other, and making endless suggestive statements and innuendos. Thankfully, Jimi was amused rather than angered.
“Mom just won’t give up!” he laughed, after Mama Jay had literally shooed everyone out of the living room, to give Jimi and I some ‘privacy’. “She really thinks we’ll get back together.”
I shook my head and laughed, amused by Mama Jay’s antics…but also curious about how exactly Jimi felt about the probability.
“But we’re so much better this way, right?” he continued, which pretty much answered my question.
“Way, way better.” I agreed, my smile brighter than how I really felt inside. For some reason, hearing it from him made me feel…I don’t know…sad almost.
“But you know what she’s really afraid of, right?” Jimi asked. “She’s scared of losing you.”
Jimi nodded. “Yeah, you’re going to get married one day…and you won’t continue to be the daughter she never had.”
I laughed incredulously. Marry sha. Wouldn’t I at least date first? And even the dating was as far fetched as me taking a space shuttle to the moon.
But I couldn’t tell him that.
“Mommy has nothing to worry about, if that’s her problem. Even if I do get married, she’ll always be my mother.”
Jimi had nodded, an indecipherable smile on his face, as if he thought I didn’t know what I was saying, but thankfully he let it slide.
By the time he left for the States in January 2010, our friendship had been restored and Rire was happy that his parents were finally getting along.
The only person devastated was Mama Jay, whose high hopes had been dashed. Well, not all love stories have a happy ending, and it was something that she just had to learn, albeit the hard way.
The only other casualty from Jimi’s trip had been Dolly. Poor, poor Dolly.
A few days before he left, my oldest sister, Adun, who had just moved back to Nigeria with her family, was having a house warming party. As Rire had spent the night with his father, I’d gone there alone.
“Rire is not coming?” Adun had asked. “The kids will be so disappointed.”
“No, he’ll be here.” I’d answered. “Jimi will bring him later.”
At the mention of Jimi’s name, Dolly, who had hitherto been looking bored and so ready to be somewhere else, had almost choked on her drink.
“Jimi is in town? He’s coming here?” she’d exclaimed, her excitement like a little kid in a candy shop.
Adun and I exchanged a glance, as Dolly dashed out of the living room, obviously to go touch up her makeup. By the time she returned, her lips were glossier, face was nice and matte, and her perfume pervaded the whole room. She was clearly ready for business.
A little under an hour later, Jimi and Rire arrived. He exchanged warm pleasantries with Adun and Wole, whom he’d grown closer to during the Seyi rehab saga. As he turned around to leave, Dolly walked up to him.
“Hi Jimi!” she’d said, smiling in what I guess she thought was a seductive manner.
“Hi…” Jimi had said tentatively, looking at her confused.
It was clear he had no idea who she was. I felt like sinking into the ground, ashamed on my sister’s behalf.
“Jimi, it’s me. Dolly.” she said, her voice almost a whisper, as if she didn’t want the rest of the room to hear.
Jimi’s eyes had widened in shock, but he quickly recovered himself, giving her a warm hug and asking how she had been. But the damage was already done. Not up to 10 minutes after Jimi left, Dolly also made an excuse and left the house. It was obvious she was broken.
“Where are you going?” Adun demanded, as I made to walk out the door behind Dolly.
“We can’t leave her alone, Adun…” I protested, desperate to go offer my sister some comfort.
“Dolapo made her bed…let he lie on it! Did she think of you when she destroyed your marriage?!” Adun said angrily. “Fola, you too, sometimes I wonder what kind of brain you have. After 31 years on this earth, you’re not wise enough to know that the minute you stretch out your hand to Dolapo, she’ll pull you right into her hole, step on you to get out of it, and cover the hole so that you don’t get out!”
Adun’s words gave my brain the reset it needed. She was right. If I made the mistake of opening the door for Dolly, even if it was just a little crack, she would push the door down and barge right in!
You can catch up on Fola’s story here:
- Sister, Sister 1: Calling Me Mrs.
- Sister, Sister 2: The Odd Family
- Sister, Sister 3: Floating On Air
- Sister, Sister 4: The Many Wives of Jimi
- Sister, Sister 5: Russian Roulette
- Sister, Sister 6: So Much In Common
- Sister, Sister 7: An Unlikely Pair
- Sister, Sister 8: Longing For Her
- Sister, Sister 9: The Return
- Sister, Sister 10: The Catastrophe
- Sister, Sister 11: Not Working
- Sister, Sister 12: Sham of a Marriage
- Sister, Sister 13: Invisible Strings
- Sister, Sister 14: Rehab
- Sister, Sister 15: Fall From Grace