Whilst it hurt being stuck in the friend zone, being able to rekindle a relationship with Jimi, albeit a platonic one, almost made up for it.
Even with Samuel’s return the following weekend, Jimi made it a point of duty to drop off Rire at home, and for the subsequent pick ups and drop offs that followed. And every time he came, we would laugh and banter like old times. In fact, it felt just as good as those old times. Except so much better.
This time, there was no dark cloud of anything or anyone looming over us. I was able to relax and really and truly enjoy his company.
In the first few weekends, I put in an effort with my appearance. Be it for the Friday pick-up or Sunday drop-off, I took extra care to make sure I looked decent, wearing my most flattering clothes, taking care to ensure my hair was presentable, and even investing in the perfume I’d worn in the past that I knew Jimi loved, Estee Lauder’s Pleasures.
But by the fifth visit, I realized I was wasting my time. It was obvious that the guy no send me again! Spending the time I could have used to catch some extra sleep on a Sunday afternoon, on futile efforts to what, lure him back to me? Who the heck was I kidding? So I stopped. I reverted to my own normal; track downs, a comfortable t-shirt, and hair in whatever state it was when he arrived. And true to expectations, it made absolutely no difference.
Our romance might not have thrived, but our friendship sure did. And the beauty was that our son, Rire, was old enough to be a part of our bantering. For the first time, we were both able to share with him the little anecdotes from our past that he wasn’t aware of before. For one thing, whilst he knew that his father had been the best dancer in the whole of Lagos in his teenage days, he had never heard that his mother and uncle were equally as famed. He got to hear how his parents had originally bonded over a shared love for dance and poetry. Putting it in his words, he never knew how ‘alike his parents were’.
I didn’t share details of our renewed friendship with my family, siblings or close friends. I didn’t need the extra pressure from them. I’d already accepted the fact that we were platonic, but I feared they would run me mad with all sorts of suggestions and innuendo, of how to win him back. As if they were blind to my current reality. Nah, that was one thing I could do without.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. As Rire’s exams came upon us, we jointly rolled up our sleeves, and worked with our son as he prepared for not only his SSCE, but also his SAT’s. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but thankfully we got through it unscathed and triumphant. And when exams were over, and it was time for the graduation festivities, it felt like a roaring triumph for me…for all of us!
Rire’s school had canceled their usual Graduation Prom, citing the country’s economic recession and their reluctance to impose it on families that couldn’t afford to participate, as their reason. But in true form, some parents of the kids came together, and before we knew it, a private ‘Graduation Ball’ had been planned. I didn’t care either way, whether it was organized by the school or by some busy-body parents. I just wanted my son to have the best of his graduation.
I was pleasantly surprised when Rire told me he’d asked a girl to the dance. My son who acted like girls were the last thing on his mind, had actually asked a girl to be his date. In my bemusement, it dawned on me that Jimi, his father, had been about the same age the first time I’d seen him, at the Queens College function in 1990, and I realized that my baby was actually a baby no more.
But I had one condition.
“I have to drive you guys there. That way, I also get to meet her parents, so everyone’s happy!” I’d said, to my son’s horror.
“Mom, you can’t be serious!” he’d exclaimed.
“That or no deal, bruv.” I’d answered. “What were you thinking I’d do? Allow you drive on the expressway? You’re not even 16 yet!”
He proceed to run off to his father, in what I suspect was an attempt to quash my ruling, but had been doubly appalled when Jimi not only agreed with me, but also insisted on being a part of the plan.
“It works out perfectly! Your date lives in Phase 1 as well, so you and your mother can pick me up before we go to pick her!” Jimi had exclaimed. “You guys don’t think you can leave me out of all the fun! My son’s prom! Are you kidding me?!”
“It’s not a prom, it’s a Graduation Ball!” Rire had said, through grit teeth, I’m sure regretful of having roped in his father as well. But it was too little, too late. Jimi and I were already in countdown mode for the occasion.
D-day finally came, and I drove a sulky, but immaculately turned out, Rire to pick up his date, Leila. Our first point of call was Jimi’s place, and I found myself nursing the wish that it would be a small Bachelor’s crib, but as we approached his estate, I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong. When we got to the house, I looked up at the two-story town house, and realized that, by acquiring this property, Jimi was making a statement. This was the house of a man who was looking to settle down in the not-too-distant future, and not a philandering playboy. And I realized I had a hollow feeling in my stomach.
Jimi hopped into the front passenger’s seat of my car, and gave my outfit a quizzical look. Whilst he was in a black linen shirt and dark jeans, I was clad in trackdowns, a sleeveless jersey top and Birkenstock slippers.
“What? Am I going to party with them? Is it not to just drop them off?!” I demanded, feeling guilty.
“Folabomi, who am I to question your wardrobe choices?!” Jimi had laughed. “If Rire is happy, then I’m happy!”
Our next stop was Leila’s house, and as we, all three of us, approached her front door, I found myself almost feeling sorry for Rire. Surely, showing up for a date, flanked by mommy and daddy, wouldn’t do his cool factor any favors. But stronger than any fleeting pity was the need to protect my son…by checking out the girl he was interested in, for one thing.
Leila’s mother’s face lit up like a Christmas tree, when she realized Rire was with his parents, and the four of us, Jimi, myself, and Leila’s parents, had spent almost half an hour, chatting and laughing, whilst the teenagers glared at us.
“I’m so relieved you’re driving them! At least now I can relax, and not work myself into a frenzy!” Leila’s mother had said as she walked us to the car, her relief palpable.
In the end, the other four of us, Rire, Leila, Jimi and myself, set off for the hall in Ikoyi, where the ball was holding.
“You two better not even think it!” Rire sneered, as we pulled up in front of the venue.
I knew I’d pushed the boy far enough, so Jimi and I simply waved them off from the car, and beamed with pride as our son walked, hand-in-hand, with the lovely Leila, resplendent in a black tule dress, into the hall.
“I’m so emotional right now.” I choked. “Can you believe that’s Rire? At his prom?”
“We’ve come full circle.” Jimi said, looking at me. “Do you know that it’s exactly 20 years since that day I met you at the Foads party?”
My eyes widened. “Really? The exact date?”
“Well, not exactly. Today is the 9th of July, and the party was on the 12th, but still. Almost to the day.” Jimi answered.
I was fascinated. “How can you even remember that?”
“That’s not the kind of thing one forgets.” he answered. “It’s the day my whole life changed.”
Our eyes held for a moment, and I felt myself go light headed. “So…what now?” I croaked, not sure if I meant what we were to do whilst waiting for the dance to be over…or about the ‘moment’ we’d just had.
“How about we go to Jelili and wait?” Jimi answered, thankfully not thinking I meant otherwise.
At the mention of the name of our old hang out, I had to laugh. “You are all about blasts from the past today!”
Jimi shrugged. “Hey, why not? We need to kill time, and I’m in the mood for some great catfish pepper soup. Aren’t you?”
I laughed again. Jimi was always full of surprises. Jelili! Wow, that was a place I hadn’t thought about in years! It’s a small joint near the Old Secretariat; not quite Ikoyi, but not quite Obalende. But as dingy as the place is, their pepper soup is world class, and as such has had a steady and generous clientele for years.
I was surprised by how easy it was for me to locate the place. Having not been there in at least 13 years, I thought it would take a while to remember just where it was, but surprisingly it was easy…just like the proverbial saying of riding a bike. I swerved into our old parking spot with the same familiarity as if I’d just done it yesterday, and as Jimi and I walked into the place, I was not only stunned to see more than 80% of the staff from the past still there, but greeting us as if we’d just been there the night before.
“Hey, Jimi…Fola! Bawo ni!” the Patron had greeted, with a casual wave.
I couldn’t help but laugh. It was like I’d stepped into a time capsule.
“Have you been here since…since the last time?” I asked.
Jimi shook his head. “Nope. I haven’t been here since 2004.”
I didn’t probe any further, understanding why he had cut the place off.
“So why come back today?” I heard myself asking.
“It just felt like the right choice.” he added, before shrugging. “Besides, it’s near the venue of Rire’s prom, ball or whatever!”
Refusing to read any meaning where there was none, Jimi and I proceeded to have the best meal of catfish pepper soup ever, whilst laughing about old times. As one familiar face showed up after the other, we cackled over how it seemed like someone had hit the Pause button on the place. Everything about the place was just the same; the staff, the customers, the food, the ambience, heck even the furniture! Nothing had changed since 2004.
And I loved it!
“Hi Jimi!” three young ladies called out, as they walked into the place.
Jimi waved at them enthusiastically, pretty happy to see them. I sized them up. They looked about 22, 23.
“They were interns with our firm.” he said, catching my gaze. “They spent their 6-month internship with us earlier in the year.”
“And they call you Jimi?”
“About 70% of companies in Nigeria are now run on a first-name basis, Fola.” he’d responded, and so I dropped it.
Before we knew it, the place was filled to its typical Saturday night capacity. The food was good, drinks were flowing, and the music was great. In the past, Jimi and I would always move to the music, and as I watched everyone else writhe around to the rhythm, I found myself almost wishing I could join in.
To my relief, Jimi took me by the hand. “Let’s go outside. It’s a bit rowdy here.”
And with that, we walked, hand in hand, to where we were parked.
“Old man! What happened to the Jimi that would bust a move on demand?!” I teased.
Jimi gave me a bemused look, before proceeding to do a perfect shoki for me. I nodded, impressed. He still had moves.
“Not bad. Not bad for a 41 year old man.” I laughed.
As our laughter subsided, we sat on a broken wall, too far away to perfectly hear the music from Jelili, but near enough to hear music wafting from another parked car, belting, ironically, Lionel Richie music. Peering into the car curiously, I saw there was a lone man, seat reclined, eyes closed, and enjoying the music.
“Lionel Richie in Obalende on a Saturday night.” Jimi remarked. “Odd combination.”
True. But I was strangely comforted by the rich ballads…ballads I hadn’t been able to listen to since…well…since a long time.
“I hardly listen to this kind of music anymore.” Jimi said, echoing my thoughts.
“Why?” I asked, pretty much knowing what his answer would be.
“Too hard.” was all he offered, and I didn’t ask for more.
“Neither do I.” I said, after a lengthy pause.
He looked at me, and it was hard to read what was going through his head.
“I thought you would get back with Lekushe.” he said.
I gave him a bemused look. “Lekushe should never have happened.”
“So…any guys after him?” he asked.
I shook my head, and after another lengthy pause, decided to just go for it. “You?”
He looked at me, amused. “No, no guys after Lekushe!”
I hit him playfully, and he shrugged. “None for me, either. I haven’t been able to commit to anyone emotionally since…”
Again, he didn’t have to complete his sentence.
“It’s crazy. Here I am, 38 years old, and with only one person for my body count!” I said, in a lame attempt at a joke. “Pathetic, right?”
Jimi didn’t laugh in response. Our eyes held again, and this time, there was no mistaking what I saw in his.
“Nothing pathetic about that, Fola.” he said, putting his arm around me. I rested my head on his shoulder, and we sat in silence, listening to more Lionel Richie.
“You don’t know what it does to me, every time you say that.” Jimi said, after another lengthy pause. “That’s my mumu button right there.”
I laughed at the unexpected use of the phrase, but said nothing to counter or banter with him. It was wearing my heart on my sleeve, the fact that I still had never been able to give myself to another man…and I’m sure he knew that as well. It didn’t have to take a genie to deduce that Jimi was the absolute love of my life.
“Your hair still smells like coconuts and vanilla.” he said, making me smile, basking in the euphoria of what was starting to feel like a love rekindled.
“And you’re still Mr. Davidoff!” I teased, trying to make light of the conversation.
Lionel Richie’s Stuck On You was now playing from the mystery music lover’s car.
“This song is for us, Fola.” he said, my head still nuzzled on his shoulder. “It’s been 20 years, and you still have me wrapped around your finger!”
I looked up at him, our face mere inches from each other. “My fat finger!”
He looked confused.
“I’m nothing like the girl you met 20 years ago, Jimi. That girl was probably the size of one of my thighs!” I laughed lamely.
“You’re just as beautiful to me now as you have always been.” was his perfect answer, making me melt like butter.
As our eyes held, he lowered his head down to mine, and our mouths were mere inches away…when his name was called from the distance.
“Good night, Jimi!” the pretty girls from inside Jelili, his former Interns, called out. “Are you hanging out tonight?”
Jimi waved back, and shouted something about not having the kind of stamina they had, and urging them to be good.
As I watched the exchange, I absorbed the gorgeousness of the young girls, and my heart sank. All 3 of them were sexy and thin, and one of them wore a mid-riff baring top that exposed her board flat stomach. How on earth could Jimi want me…when he could have all that?
And so I pulled away from his embrace.
“We should leave.” I said, trying to keep a calm and steady voice. “I’m sure the ball will be over by now.”
Jimi looked at me, the expression on his face pained, before clouding over. “Sure.” was his terse answer.
We walked in silence to the car, and drove in silence to the ball. Thank God for the chatter between Rire and Leila, which made up for the deathly silence that pervaded our car. After dropping Leila home, as we dropped Jimi, he kissed Rire on the forehead, before throwing a curt wave my way.
Driving home, I felt like I had, once again, lost everything!
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
- Sister, Sister 41: Friend Zoned