As 2014 moved along, I immersed myself into creating for myself what I didn’t have before…an identity.
Brands had always been my passion. It was the reason I’d left my job in IT to start a brand new career in advertising. Even though I hadn’t progressed beyond a junior level at the Agency I’d resigned from, I’d managed to learn a lot, and I was convinced I had enough in me to make it on my own.
My siblings, Adun and Niyi, as well as my friends Bimbo and Lilian, were very supportive of me, and served as my original guinea pigs. I helped Niyi’s wife, Labisi, a fashion stylist, with her branding and social media positioning, and Bimbo got me a few small advert design and placement jobs from her office.
But I knew I would have to go beyond friends and family if I really wanted to make an impact.
My next plan was to reach out to the very many young entrepreneurs who had approached my former company for brand management, but had been turned away by the exorbitantly expensive charges. Of the perhaps 100 I contacted, 27 gave me audience, and 20 agreed to let me handle their branding for them, for about 10% the standard cost. I threw myself into each and every one of these brand campaigns, working almost non-stop, from morning to night. I leaned heavily on the other contacts I’d made in the course of my career; contacts in PR, marketing, placement, and even ad agencies, including my former one. I was like a one woman-army, working tirelessly to ensure I delivered on each and every one of the brand campaigns.
And I did.
Not only were they all a roaring success, they achieved for me what I’d hoped they would. Industry recognition. The word-of-mouth referrals proved a stronger tool than anything I could have done to publicize myself, and I was soon so swamped with work, that I had to hire an assistant. Even though I wasn’t ready to have a physical office, my assistant, Efe, and I worked perfectly remotely, meeting only when we needed to. It was the perfect life for me. I was finally financially self sufficient.
But it came with a downside…
Somehow, and I’m not sure exactly when it happened, food became my number one companion. It became my brainstorming partner, my boredom filler, and my late-night companion when loneliness set in. I was always eating. I ate when I was happy, I ate when I was sad, I ate when I was angry, I ate when I was mellow, I ate when I was busy, I ate when I was bored…
And it soon started to show. As 2014 drew to a close, and as I celebrated all the phenomenal milestones my business had recorded, I had ballooned from the size 10/12 I was to a buxom 16. My mid-2015, I was a full size 18!
At first, my family was wary about mentioning anything about it, as I was still very sensitive from the whole Jimi / Lekushe saga. Then they started dropping subtle hints about me getting back in shape. But none of it bothered me. I no longer cared. Who was I trying to look good for anyway? That part of my life was over. My sole focus was my business, and my clients didn’t care if I looked like a super model or a sumo wrestler. Or at least, I didn’t think so.
My life had gone back full circle to my tomboy teenage days. I chucked my contact lenses and reverted to wearing glasses. My flashy designer clothes had been replaced by nondescript t-shirts, jeans, and maybe the odd suit here and there, for meetings. I chopped off my hair in an attempt to go natural, but reverted after I found out how high maintenance it was. It quickly regrew, but as I couldn’t be bothered to do anything with it, it was almost always in an untidy, scraggly, uncontrollable mess. I didn’t care anymore.
Well…that’s not entirely true.
I did care a little bit, if not, why else would I have avoided the Fajobis,my former in-laws, like the plague. The last thing I wanted was for them to see me looking the way I did, so I made excuses for every family gathering I was invited to. I was always either too ill, or tied down in a meeting, or committed to some other engagement or the other. Even when Seyi got married to his long-time girlfriend, Amina, in July 2015, I deliberately planned a business trip out of the country to coincide with it, so I wouldn’t have to be there. It had broken my heart not to have seen my dear Seyi finally tie the knot, but it would have broken my heart even more to present myself to them in my present state.
But more truthfully, it would have broken me for Jimi to see me looking the way I did.
In the almost two years it had been since the fiasco, we hadn’t set eyes on each other even once. We’d spoken on the phone a number of times, exclusively about Rire, but our paths hadn’t crossed once. From the way he never wavered in sending his driver for Rire, it was obvious he was avoiding me as well.
I made it a point of duty not to ask about him from Rire. I didn’t want to know if he was dating, lest of all whom. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to handle such information, so made sure I steered well clear of any discussion that would lead to that. And not that there ever was, as my almost 15 year old son seemed to have accepted the arrangement perfectly, oscillating between me and his father without showing any bias or sympathy either of us. Well, at least he didn’t show me any. When Jimi’s driver came, he would kiss me goodbye and go off, and when he returned, he would hug me with nary a word of what had transpired. No unsolicited gist whatsoever. No nothing. And I liked it like that!
In September 2015, I secured my biggest account yet. One of the major telecom companies was embarking on a new branding campaign, and I had been recommended to their executives. I’d been invited for a meeting, and after a lengthy wait, was ushered into the office of the Head of Corporate Communications, a beautiful woman called Ngozi.
All through my pitch, I couldn’t help but admire the flawlessly gorgeous woman seated in front of me. I could tell she was in her 40s, but she could easily have passed for 25. When I was done talking, she smiled at me.
“Folabomi!” she’d said, smiling. “That’s not a name one easily forgets. And I haven’t forgotten it in 3 years!”
I looked at her quizzically, wondering what she was talking about.
“Does the name Aka ring any bell?” she asked, still smiling.
My eyes almost popped out of their sockets as realization hit me. This was Aka’s Ngozi. The fiancée of my former toaster. And at that very moment, I wished the ground could just open up and swallow me. Thank God I hadn’t gone with Efe, or God knows how I could have explained something so scandalous to my assistant!
“Relax, Folabomi” Ngozi giggled. “You don’t have anything to worry about. I know you and Aka didn’t have anything with each other. In fact, he told me how you were the one who set him straight. I’ll never forget what he said you told him…that the devil shouldn’t use him to destroy a life!” she laughed again. “It always cracks me up remembering it!”
All I could do was stare at her, my mouth hanging open, not quite sure if she was just crazy or…crazy.
“Even though, I have to admit, you look different from what I imagined.” she continued.
“I looked a lot different then.” I managed to croak.
“Look, Fola…can I call you Fola?” she went on. “I love your work! You come highly recommended and I know you can deliver what it is we want…” then smiling at me, she added. “But I also like you as a person. Not many girls would have done what you did. And for that, I’m grateful!” she extended her hand for a handshake. “I’m going to tell you here and now. The job is yours!”
I squealed like a pig in labour, at the realization I had secured the project of a lifetime, one that would be a definite game changer for me.
“Thank you so much!” I said, shaking her hand with a little more vigor than was necessary. “You won’t regret this!”
“I know I won’t.” she said, smiling broadly. “And I’ll tell Aka I saw you!”
It was then I noticed the picture on her desk of her standing next to a very familiar, and still incredibly handsome Aka, with two toddler boys, twins from the look of things, in their arms. A beautiful family that almost never was.
Getting home, Efe and I were still in celebration mode, when my phone started ringing. It was an unfamiliar number, but I answered it anyway, hoping it was heralding even more business for us.
“Fola?” came a voice I recognized.
“Lekan??!” I exclaimed. If there ever was a list of people I never expected to hear from again, he would be atop that list.
“I’ve been trying to summon the courage to call you for a while. Well…make that a year actually.” he said, his voice unsteady with nerves.
“I didn’t expect to hear from you again…not after everything that happened.” I said, walking away from Efe’s curious glances over the sudden change in my celebratory mood, and into my bedroom for privacy.
“Fola…these have been the worst two years of my life!” he said. “I have done everything I can to forget you, but I just can’t. I’ve tried to be with other women, but none of them have made me feel as happy as I was when I was with you.”
“I thought you said I wasn’t good enough. And that you’d had prettier, sexier, younger women…” I reminded him of some of the choice words he’d used the night of our breakup.
“I was hurt, Fola. I’d been hurt beyond anything I could have imagined, and I was just lashing out!”
“And Dolly? Was that you lashing out as well?”
He was silent for a few seconds. “Sleeping with Dolly was the worst mistake I ever made. As soon as it was over, I literally felt sick with shame over what I’d done. I will never have enough words to tell you how much I regret it.”
I sighed. “What do you want from me, Lekan?”
“I have to see you. I need to tell you all these things in person. I need to explain to you just how badly I want you back in my life!” he answered. “If you give me your address, I could come over?”
The memory of him threatening to rape me flashed in my head, and I immediately shut down that idea. Who knew if he would make good on that threat this time?! Nah, no way I was going to have him in my house.
But I also knew I owed it to him to give him closure. I knew I would never, ever, resume a relationship with him, but if speaking with him would give him some closure, then so be it.
I suggested we meet the following evening, at a café we’d frequented when we were dating, and I could tell from his voice that his hopes were elevated.
Well, poor him.
I deliberately decided to go as myself, and not the Folabomi he remembered. As I walked into the café, I saw that he was seated at our usual table, and it was amazing how vivid the memories of us sitting there were, laughing and drinking cappuccinos.
Our eyes held, and he rose to his feet, holding a bouquet of red roses. But as I approached him, I saw his smile dim a little, and I had to resist the urge to burst out laughing.
In my no-name trousers, no-name High Street top and no-name bag, I was nothing like Folabomi of two years prior, who would have waltzed into the place like she was on a runway, designer bag in hand, make up on fleek, and expensive human hair billowing behind her. I’d barely managed to make my not-quite-natural-but0not-quite-processed hair look presentable, and had little or no makeup on…if you could call a dusting of compact powder and lip gloss make up.
And did I mention the old Fola weighed about 20 to 30kg less?
“Hi, Lekan! It’s so good to see you!” I said, hugging him. “Are these for me?” I said, accepting the flowers.
“You look lovely, Fola.” he said, but not quite able to fully mask his surprise. “Different though…”
I nodded and smiled. “Very different, I know.”
“And the glasses?”
“I ditched the contacts. Too much stress, especially when you’re working into the night, the way I usually do!” I answered, smiling and enjoying how uncomfortable he was.
“Congratulations. I heard you’re doing pretty well in the world of branding! I’m proud of you.” he said, and I beamed but this time sincerely.
Just then, the waiter arrived to take our orders.
“Are you going to have your usual Cobb salad?” Lekan asked, smiling at me.
I smiled, as I remembered that, apart from days when she was crying over man trouble, the old Fola ate strictly clean. But not this Fola.
“I’ll have a cheese burger with extra fries.” I said to the waiter, and smiled at the amazement, or was it horror, on Lekan’s face.
“You really have changed.” he marveled.
“Yes, I have, Lekan. And for the better. I’m a much happier and fulfilled person than I was two years ago. I might not look it, but I am!” I said, smiling reassuringly.
“Fola, yes, you look different now…but it’s still the same you. And I still want to be with you.” he said, holding my hand. “I know you and Jimi had a strong bond. You guys were married, and have a kid together. I know that. But I also know that you two haven’t been together since our breakup, so that’s also given me some hope.”
I pulled my hand away, the mention of Jimi’s name making my stomach drop. “And who told you that?”
“I’ve asked around. And everyone I’ve asked has confirmed that you two aren’t an item.”
I was almost tempted to ask who it was that was an item with Jimi, but opted to let common sense prevail and keep my mouth shut.
“I even saw him at Flappy’s wedding, a few months ago.” Lekan continued, and I again had to restrain myself from asking if he’d been alone. That wasn’t my concern.
“Did you two…?” I did manage to ask, my curiosity getting the better of me.
“We said hello, of course. We were friendly back in Unilag…before our unfortunate love triangle. It was also proof that I’ve truly been able to move on from what happened.” he answered.
I sighed. “Listen, Lekan. The only reason I agreed to meet you was to apologize for what I did to you. You were good to me, and didn’t deserve that. I’m really sorry, and I hope you’ll find that wonderful woman who will make you happy…because it’s clearly not me!” I reached over and hugged him. “You’re a special one, Lekushe! Really special!”
I signaled to the waiter to make my meal to-go, and when the takeaway pack arrived, I bade Lekan farewell, rose to my feet and walked away from the table, bouquet of roses in hand, feeling like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest. Who knew I was in need of closure as well?
If only I could get closure with the one person I needed it from the most…
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
- Sister, Sister 16: Reset Button
- Sister, Sister 17: Available…Unavailable
- Sister, Sister 18: Paradigm Shift
- Sister, Sister 19: Living a Lie
- Sister, Sister 20: Not That Kind of Girl
- Sister, Sister 21: Name Dropping
- Sister, Sister 22: The Banker
- Sister, Sister 23: One Chip
- Sister, Sister 24: A Mess
- Sister, Sister 25: The Matchmaker
- Sister, Sister 26: Promise of Fidelity
- Sister, Sister 27: Hole In My Heart
- Sister, Sister 28: Charmed
- Sister, Sister 29: Last Minute Snack
- Sister, Sister 30: Disrespectful
- Sister, Sister 31: Force of Gravity
- Sister, Sister 32: Settle For Less
- Sister, Sister 33: Sweet Talk
- Sister, Sister 34: Breathless
- Sister, Sister 35: Consolation Prize
- Sister, Sister 36: Intoxicated
- Sister, Sister 37: Back To Business
- Sister, Sister 38: There’s a Fire
- Sister, Sister 39: Being Enough