Seeing Lekan was bitter sweet for me. Sweet, because it gave me the opportunity to put an old ghost to rest. Even though he had gotten his own pound of flesh (pun intended) by sleeping with Dolly, I still carried a good measure of guilt about the whole fiasco. And being able to clear the air with him was a huge relief for me…
But it was bitter because I was faced with the reality I’d been running away from. The ever so brief disappointment on his face when he’d seen me…it was something that flashed in my head over and over again. Before then, I’d managed to convince myself that I didn’t care how I looked, or whether or not I was now overweight. But I clearly still did. I was no longer the attractive woman I’d once been, and for the first time in almost two years, I allowed myself fixate on that briefly. But only briefly. After brooding about it for a day or two, I quickly shook off the funk. So what if I wasn’t rake thin anymore?! So what if all heads didn’t snap around to look at me, when I walked into a room?! What had all that gotten for me in the past anyway? Not a damn thing! If making a success of myself meant I spent more brain matter being creative with useful things, instead of wondering what my next outfit would be, then so be it! I was never, ever, going back to the dependent nothing I was before. Never!
So I threw myself even deeper into my work, most especially the massive deal we’d just secured from the telecom company, and it paid off. The campaign we created for them did well, and not only were we retained to work on other campaigns, Ngozi was kind enough to refer me to a good number of other contemporaries of hers as well.
Life was good. I hired another assistant, Ijeoma, and even briefly contemplated getting office space…a thought that was quickly nixed. The girls and I worked perfectly remotely. Getting an office would just be for vanity for me…a tick in the box. Maybe when my business had evolved some more I would, but at that point, I didn’t think we were there yet.
2016 rolled in, and with it, the realization that my Rire, my son, my sunshine, would not only be turning 16 later in the year, but would be graduating from secondary school that same year. I was emotional thinking of the fact that he would soon be off to University, leaving me all alone. Thinking of it made me feel empty almost. Yes, it was great that I was doing well for myself, but with Rire gone, what would it all be for?
So I was pretty emotional for most of January and February, just thinking about it. I confided my fears to my mother and Adun, who both tried to assure me that just because he would be leaving the country didn’t mean I’d be losing him, and that I was building for his future as well, so my work wouldn’t be for nothing. I knew all this in principle, but just the thought of being all alone at home, for months at a stretch, made my heart bleed.
Another thing that made my heart bleed was the sight of my estranged sister, Dolly, in the society pages. In the last couple of years, she’d become a permanent fixture on the social scene, on the arm of her Politician husband, Princewill, at one gathering or the other. She’d finally gotten what she wanted.
Every time I saw her picture, my blood boiled. I was angry that, instead of paying for everything she’d done to me, everything she had made me lose, she was living her life to the fullest. Princewill, her sugar daddy from way back, had finally decided to make an ‘honest’ woman out of her, and they’d had an elaborate and glamourous wedding in Dubai, covered by all the major newspapers, magazines and blogs…but witnessed by none of her family members. Not even one! None of us had spoken to her since the recording fiasco, so we had all seen the pictures online, like the rest of the world. Unlike my siblings and I, who really couldn’t have been bothered about not being at the wedding, it had hurt our parents deeply. Unable to bear the separation anymore, our mother had actually gone to Abuja, to see if she could find a way to see her daughter, but had been turned away at the gate of Dolly’s mansion. She hadn’t even been allowed entry into the compound, lest of all audience with the high and mighty Honourable’s wife. She had come home even more brokenhearted, and my siblings and I hated our black sheep sister even more.
I resented her. I resented her for being happy, instead of miserable, the way she deserved. From the pictures we were assaulted with, almost on a weekly basis, she had not only kept the weight off, she had lost even a bit more, and was back to looking as smoking hot as she’d looked 20 years before in Unilag. In addition, her complexion had the kind of glow that only immense wealth could bring. Yes, she was several shades lighter, but she didn’t even look bleached. Rather, she looked fresh…luscious…expensive. And I hated her for it!
That Sunday morning in March 2016, sitting on my dining table and seeing a picture of her and Princewill at some Senator’s son’s wedding, I almost felt like ripping the newspaper to shreds.
“If seeing her upsets you so much, why don’t you just stop buying the paper?” Rire asked, in response to the long hiss I let out after seeing the picture in This Day Style.
“I can’t stop buying the papers because of her.” I muttered, tossing it aside. This was the exchange my son and I always had, every time I saw his Aunt in the papers or the blogs. Even though I’d tried to keep a lot from him, he’d been able to piece together a lot, both from the things that were said and the things that weren’t. He couldn’t understand why I remained fixated on her…and I didn’t have the heart to explain that it was because all I wanted was to see her suffer. Maybe when he was older, he’d understand.
Later that Sunday, as I was working on a pitch for a potential client, the doorbell rang. A quick glance at the clock indicated it would be Jimi’s driver. With the school term just ended, Rire was to spend a week with his father, before returning home to prepare for his final exams. Rising to my feet, I opened the door absent mindedly, but when I saw who was standing outside, my heart stopped…like literally stopped.
There at my door step was the man I had loved for the better part of my life. The father of my child. Jimi.
“Hi Fola,” he said, looking uncomfortable himself. “I’m here for Rire.”
“Where is Samuel?” I blurted, asking for the driver who had religiously done this for years.
“He took some time off to travel. He lost his mother.” Jimi answered, before clearing his throat. “Can I come in?”
“Rire is playing football a few streets away…”
“I know. I’ve spoken with him already. He says he’ll be home soon.” Jimi answered. “Listen, I can wait in the car…”
“Come in!” I muttered, stepping aside so he could enter the apartment.
As he walked past me, the familiar smell of his Davidoff perfume hit me, and I felt myself go weak in the knees. How on earth could he still have this effect on me after so many years?
All of a sudden, I was all too aware of the faded Avengers t-shirt I wore, over pajama bottoms. My hair was woven into 5 untidy corn rows, and I was wearing my oldest, but most effective, but made-me-look-like-a-grandma pair of glasses. I looked a right mess.
Annoyed by how undignified I looked, I swept past him and took my seat on the couch, resuming what I was doing on my laptop. But as I looked at my screen, I couldn’t even make out the words anymore. From the corner of my eye, I kept stealing glances at Jimi, who looked equally uncomfortable, sitting on my couch. He still looked the same. No, actually he looked better than he did 3 years before. From his toned arms, it was clear he’d started working out. And it made me all the more conscious of the extra luggage I was carrying around.
“It’s been a while, Fola,” he finally said. “I know we speak on the phone, but it’s great to finally see you again, after such a long time.”
I simply nodded, not taking my eyes off my screen, my heart beating out of my chest.
“You have a deadline?” he asked.
I sighed, trying to feign exasperation. “Yes! And you’re kind of distracting me!”
“Okay! My bad. Just pretend that I’m not here,” was his own bemused answer, and I looked up when I heard the humour in his voice.
“I guess it’s funny, right?” I snapped. “I guess it’s funny that I have a deadline…or that I’ve put on 30kg!”
Now that came out of nowhere! And I found myself mortified by the outburst.
“Neither actually,” he answered, smiling now. “Rire already gave me a heads up about the weight.”
My brows arched in something between being surprised and being pissed.
“Oh did he now?”
At that moment, the culprit rushed into the house, gave his father a hug, waved at me, and tore into his room to grab his bags. I marched in after him.
“How come you’ve been blabbing about me to your father, but yet your lips are sealed with me?!” I demanded, arms crossed.
My son looked up at me, like I was crazy. “Because he asks!”
Three simple words that shut me right up. He kissed me goodbye, and I didn’t even have the nerve to return to the living room. Instead, I sat on his bed as he and his father let themselves out of the house.
The rest of the night, I couldn’t think of anything else. Jimi was asking about me? In what context? Just out of duty? Or was he genuinely interested in what I was up to? Was he still interested in me?
Midway through my deliberation, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. Interested indeed. Who the hell was I kidding?
The next day, I had to use all my discipline and will-power to muscle my thoughts back to the pitch I was working on, and my business in general. I hadn’t come that far only to get stuck again in some he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not conundrum. Not again! If there was one thing about my former life I did not miss, that was it. There was a reason I’d deliberately thrown Jimi to the furthest part of my mind all these years. And I wasn’t ready to open Pandora’s box any more than I already had.
Later that week, I got a reminder text from Rire’s school, about the meeting to be held with parents of the graduating class. Even though he was still with Jimi, I automatically assumed I’d be the one to attend the meeting. It was a silent agreement Jimi and I had. I was the one who attended school functions and meetings. That way, we hadn’t had any opportunity to run into each other. I didn’t think this would be any different.
But walking into the school hall, the first person I sighted seated a few rows to the front, was Jimi. He saw me, and waved, indicating to the seat next to him. I sighed deeply. No, this wasn’t happening. Not only had he decided to show up, he wanted us to sit side-by-side?! Knowing I didn’t have a choice, I made my way to the seat.
“Hey!” he said, smiling at me.
“Hi,” was my own terse reply, as I struggled to balance my bottom on the small chair.
“Too small?” he asked.
“Yes! Too small! I keep complaining about these chairs, but I think they are deliberately trying to fat shame some of us by still keeping them here! Maybe they’re waiting for some of us start breaking them, because it’s only a matter of time before they come crashing down from all the weight!” I replied in exasperation.
I looked at him, and in unison, we both started laughing. We laughed so hard, we got dirty stares from some of the people seated around. I’m not sure what it was that set me off, because ordinarily, I would have been extra sensitive about anything to do with my weight. But there I was, laughing about it…and with my ex-husband no less.
All through the meeting, Jimi and I sniggered like little kids, finding almost everything funny. The Principal complained about late payment of extension fees by some parents, we sniggered. She announced some staff changes, and we giggled over her mispronunciation of some of the names. She talked about activities lined up for their graduation, and we were in stitches. By the end of meeting, we were still bent over laughing, as we exited the hall.
“I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do!” I giggled, as I caught sight of the Principal glaring at us, as she walked past.
“Who cares! We only have a few more weeks here!” Jimi sniggered.
As he walked me to my car, all the laughter evaporated, and I was suddenly self-conscious of how I looked in the dress I’d squeezed myself into. It was a shift dress, and one that I thought was flattering on me, but standing before the man I’d once loved with everything in me, I was suddenly aware of every bulge on my stomach, not to mention my exposed arms.
“I’m sure you’re surprised I gained all this weight.” I said, forcing a smile.
“I have to say, I was pretty surprised when Rire told me you’d abandoned all your calorie counting…but not as surprised as when he told me the glasses were back! You hated glasses, Fola.”
I shrugged. “Well, it turns out I hated contacts more.” Especially when you’re crying pretty much round the clock. In those early days, with all my crying, contacts soon lost their appeal.
“I’m surprised that you asked after me from Rire!” I said, trying to fish for a motive.
“You’re my son’s mother. Of course I’ll ask,” he answered. “Listen, Fola. I know we’ve had a very rocky history…but we don’t need to be so acrimonious. We might not be a couple, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. Look at how we were laughing like kids in there. I’ve missed that! I’ve missed you! I’ve missed your friendship!”
Something inside me sank. Of course. My friendship.
“Let’s stop being kids, okay? Keeping malice like we’re teenagers! Apart from being co-parents, we can also be friends!” he continued saying.
I smiled. “You’re right. Guilty as charged!”
“You didn’t even call me on my 40th birthday, Fola. That hurt.”
“I sent you a text…” was my own lame response.
“Not the same thing,” he said, still smiling. “And I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t happy you didn’t show up for dinner that day. My mother was literally heartbroken!”
I remembered vividly the year before, being invited for Jimi’s 40th birthday dinner. I hadn’t even bothered coming up with any excuse for not honoring the invite from Mama Jay. I didn’t think they really thought I’d be there.
“The heartbreak she felt was only second to what she felt when you weren’t there for Seyi’s wedding.” Jimi continued, rubbing it in.
I threw my hands up in mock surrender. “I’ve been terrible, I know. I’ll make it up to her!”
Without warning, he reached over to hug me.
“I’m really glad we’re cool now, Fola,” then stretching his hand, “Friends?”
I smiled stiffly as I shook him. “Friends.”
As I drove away, I waved at him again, and tried to focus on the positives. I was no longer in an invisible war with my baby daddy, and now that he’d seen how I now looked, there would be no more need for hide and seek.
But I had been friend zoned. And it hurt like hell!
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
- Sister, Sister 40: Closure