PREVIEW: A Broken Kind of Love

PREVIEW: A Broken Kind of Love

CHAPTER ONE

COME FLY WITH ME

 

APRIL 2021

Ogugua

SHE WATCHED THE BUZZ of activities from the window as the Uber made its way down Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, with hawkers and pedestrians conducting their business, meandering through lanes of cars making their way through lunch hour traffic. But none of it registered, everything a haze. Everything had been a haze in the ten days since her father’s death and, even more so, in the six since Omoruyi’s. She still couldn’t fathom it, Omoruyi’s death. At least, her father, apart from being elderly, had been gravely ill. Omoruyi, from everything she had heard, had been anything but. One minute, he was hale and hearty and getting ready to start his day, and the next minute, he was out cold on the floor.

And the suddenness of it all, the reminder of the fragility and nothingness of it all, had left a hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach since her friend, Zinna, broke the news to her.

A loud bang as a child body-slammed herself on the car made Ogugua start. Her nostrils flared as the girl raised pinched fingers to her mouth signaling hunger, with eyes downcast and a downturned mouth. Sighing, Ogugua reached for her bag, pulled out a thousand-naira note, pressed the button to slide the window down and handed it to the girl.

“You shouldn’t encourage them, Madam,” the Uber driver said from where he sat beside her.

She always sat in the front passenger seat when she rode in taxis.

But the driver’s warning was too late as the car was soon swarmed by half a dozen replicas of the girl, except more vocal versions.

“Mommy, please,” “Fine Mommy, I neva chop,” “God bless your children.”

Ogugua’s eyes widened as she quickly slid the window back up. It was the same song and dance of feeling sorry for people begging for money, handing out something generous, and then being besieged by several others. One would think that after thirty-nine years of living in the city of Lagos, she would have learned the best way to do it; hand out smaller denominations to as many of them that besieged her – like her mother would – or ignore the entire lot – like her older sister, Uloma, would.

Thankfully, the red light turned green, and the car zipped past the clamoring children. Ogugua shut her eyes and rubbed her temple. She didn’t need the guilt of not being able to satisfy a mob of hungry children. It was bad enough she was headed to the airport on her way for her friend’s funeral.

It was bad enough that she hadn’t been able to take her mind off the text message from her ex-boyfriend, her marriedex-boyfriend, Jachike.

I’m so sorry to hear about your dad, O.G. Let me know if you need anything.

He’d sent the message exactly a week before and she’d read it at least a thousand times since then. She’d gone from being irate he would dare contact her, to pleased he had, to now wondering what the point of their long enmity was anyway. Yes, he’d dumped her after they’d been a couple since their teens. Yes, he’d gone on to marry another woman very shortly after. And yes, she’d spent the last eight years loathing him so much, the thought of him was enough to send her into a tailspin. But Omoruyi’s death was the reminder that life was way too flimsy to carry around that much hate.

As the Uber ascended the link bridge leading to the domestic airport, she reached for her phone.

Thank you for asking. I appreciate it. I hope you’re doing well, she typed in response.

Exhaling, she dropped her phone into her bag just as the car pulled up in front of the airport, equal parts relived to have shed the weight of resentment she had been carrying for way too long, and anxious, not only about the sad series of events planned for the next few days, but about whether Jachike would reply her text.

And what he would say.

 

Olu

He winced when he saw Mom flash on the screen of his phone and contemplated not answering the call. But that was one thing he could never do, especially not at a time like this.

“Olumese, where are you? You said you would be back this morning,” her voice rang out as the line connected.

“I’m about to board, Mom,” he said, when the truth was that he wasn’t even at the airport yet. And with the long stretch of traffic ahead of him, he ran the risk of missing the flight he’d rescheduled for that afternoon when his meeting with the team from Jova Labs hit a gridlock the previous evening, causing them to reconvene that morning.

“Please, hurry back. We need you here.”

He shut his eyes and nodded, the break in his mother’s voice betraying the emotions she had unsuccessfully tried to contain in the six days since that black Thursday, the day she’d lost her son, her first born, and he, his older brother; ‘Uyi. The reminder brought a lump to his throat, and he bit the inside of his mouth to keep the threatening tears at bay, something he had taken to doing since walking into Omoruyi’s house that horrible Thursday morning after the phone call that changed all their lives.

“Uyi just collapsed,” Eva, ‘Uyi’s wife, had said, her voice flat. “And I can’t revive him.”

It took Olu less than ten minutes to make the typically twenty-minute drive from his Guzape apartment to his brother’s Wuse 2 townhouse. But walking into their bedroom and seeing his bulky brother sprawled on the floor with a neighbour straddled over him and pumping his chest, and Eva standing a few feet away, her face ashen as she watched, Olu’s heart had crashed all the way to his feet. The neighbour, Tisan, a medical doctor he was friendly with, turned and when their eyes met, when Olu saw the despondent look in Tisan’s, he knew it was already too late. As they went through the motions of carrying ‘Uyi to Olu’s car to get him to a hospital, their mother – Olu’s and ‘Uyi’s – emerged from the children’s bedroom, her eyes wide with hope.

“I’ll stay here with the kids,” she’d said, her firm voice belying the fear written all over face.

She had arrived from her home in Benin, en route to Dallas for her annual six-month visit with her second child, Olu’s older sister, Eseosa. As they placed ‘Uyi in the back seat of the car, his head on Eva’s lap as she held his hand and mumbled prayers, Olu couldn’t help but think how their mother being there was both opportune and calamitous. Because he knew it was a corpse they were conveying to the hospital.

It wasn’t until after they got to the hospital, until after ‘Uyi was pronounced dead, until after Eva had collapsed to the floor in tears, that Olu finally had the courage to find out from Tisan what happened, having not had the courage to ask Eva any questions during the awful drive to the hospital.

The worst drive of his twenty-nine years on earth.

‘Uyi had woken up early that morning, as was his routine, gone for his usual run, come back home, and chatted with Eva as she got dressed for work. It was while she was downstairs organising their children’s lunch boxes that she’d heard a crashing sound. She’d rushed upstairs and found ‘Uyi on the floor, lying next to their armoire that had also toppled over in the fall.

As Eva wept and Tisan comforted her, Olu had to make arrangements to move his older brother’s body to the morgue, from where he went on to make all the necessary phone calls; to Eseosa in Dallas, his uncles, his aunts, his mother’s Parish Priest in Benin, and their Parish Priest in Abuja, knowing he would need all the enforcement he could manage when he eventually broke the news to her.  With ‘Uyi moved to the morgue and Eva sedated in the hospital, Olu had returned home with the intention of telling his mother a lie to appease her until their Parish Priest and a distant relative in Abuja arrived, but one look at his face as he walked into the house and his mother sank to her knees, breaking into guttural sobs. As he held her, as they cried together, Olu knew lying was no longer an option. Their rock, their family’s anchor, was dead.

The rest of the day was a blur of phone calls, relaying the story of what he’d heard third-hand, and receiving shocked friends and family who trooped to the house after hearing the news. But what was definitely not a blur was having to break the news to his eleven-year-old nephew, Julian, and nine-year-old niece, Olivia, that their father was dead. It was the worst thing he had to do, to see these children crumble at the news, to see the hope in their faces dissolve to anguish and despair, to watch as the realisation that they would never again see their dad sank in deeper with every word he and their godmother, Eva’s best friend, Chinelo, said. He’d been ten years older than Julian when his own father died, but it had still cut deep. These kids were too young to have to go through so harrowing an experience. It made him even more resolute in his decision not to do that to any child; abandon them in death.

In the days that followed, Olu had to be strong for everyone. Eva came home after a day in hospital, and as his aunts arrived Abuja to support his mother, as the Wuse townhouse became a beehive of activity with a steady inflow of stunned friends and family, he had to tuck away his own emotions and wear a brave face. He was grateful for the support of his brother’s friends, especially Nonso, ‘Uyi’s old classmate and Olu’s recent business partner, who’d flown in the very next day to help with funeral arrangements. But the fact remained that he, Olu, was now their family’s rock and anchor.

“I told ‘Uyi to lose weight, but he wouldn’t listen!” his Aunty Gloria had wailed. “Now, look what has happened!”

If there was one thing that grated the most, it was the assumption that his brother’s sudden death had been his own doing, a direct result of the weight he had gained over the years. If only they knew he’d been in the best shape of his life, having lost almost twenty kilograms in the previous year and with textbook blood numbers – pressure, cholesterol, and sugar. ‘Uyi had died from a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in his lung, something that could have happened to the healthiest of people.

After five days answering the same questions and pretending to be strong for everybody, when Ian and Fernando, Product Development Managers with Jova Labs, a global app development company Olu was trying to collaborate with on a new product, notified him they were in Lagos for discussions with another developer, he’d handed over his mother and brother’s grieving widow to Eseosa and her husband, who had just arrived from Dallas, and hopped on a plane. The plan had been a day’s trip for a quick meeting with the Jova Labs team, giving him a few hours for himself before rushing back to Abuja the same day. But discussions with the Jova team hadn’t quite gone as planned, making him move forward his return. With things still unresolved, if ‘Uyi’s funeral activities weren’t starting the following day, he would have remained in Lagos another day or two at least, to reach a resolution with Ian and Fernando…and to pretend he wasn’t about to put in the ground his older brother, mentor, and best friend.

Heaving a sigh of relief as traffic cleared once the light turned green, he made a mental prayer not to miss his flight back to Abuja.

His family needed him.

 

Ogugua

Stepping into the plane from the airstair, Ogugua found her second row window seat, scoffing as she settled in, thinking the business class seat wasn’t much different from one back in economy. When she’d told Zinna she couldn’t afford the trip to Abuja for Omoruyi’s funeral, what with her still struggling to make her own contribution towards her father’s funeral expenses, Zinna had not only insisted on footing the cost of her trip to Abuja but had also made a very generous contribution to her father’s funeral fund. With someone else, Ogugua’s pride would have risen to the fore like a phoenix from ashes. She was never one for handouts, not even after being out of work for three months. But Zinna was her person, the one friend whose heart and motive she trusted. That, and the fact she would have felt a whole lot worse not grieving, in person, with her old friend, Eva, and saying goodbye to another, Omoruyi. Zinna had left for Abuja the previous day, for a work meeting, and if there was anything to make the trip less depressing, it was the lavish hotel suite Ogugua was looking forward to sharing with her friend.

Buckling her seat belt, she wished Zinna had sent her the money instead, so she could have bought herself an economy ticket and had some extra change in her pocket in the process. As the plane filled, she blew out her cheeks to quell her rising anxiety over the reminder that this trip to Abuja wasn’t to celebrate Omoruyi’s fortieth birthday like the last one had been, but, instead, his funeral. It also didn’t help that her phone still hadn’t beeped with any reply from Jachike. She hissed, irritated at herself for even caring, for thinking he would have dropped everything to react to her first response to any of his lame attempts at friendship in the eight years since their breakup. Well, it was his loss. As a matter of fact, it would have been better if he were the one forty-eight hours from being lowered six feet under, instead of Omoruyi, a man loved by all and hated by none. Biting her lower lip, she was immediately remorseful about wishing Jachike death. He’d dumped her years ago, yes, but it really wasn’t that deep. Deciding she didn’t need the stress of pining for a message from him, she switched off her phone, threw it into her bag, shoved the bag under the seat in front of hers, and kept her eyes on the aisle, watching people board, hoping that would take her mind off all the awful thoughts it was juggling.

After watching one too many middle-aged men in flowing babarigas and Senator outfits walk past, she was contemplating reaching for her phone again when she noticed a guy emerge from the gangway and smile in greeting at the Flight Attendant, saying something that prompted a giggle from her. Ogugua raised a brow, intrigued by this guy who had tickled the fancy of the scarlet-lipped Flight Attendant who hadn’t even as much upturned her mouth in a smile as she directed people to their seats in a flat voice and a set face. In a dark blue polo shirt, indigo blue jeans, the guy was casually dressed but more striking than any of the men she had already seen board. Her intrigue heightened when he stopped not just on her row, but her side of the aisle. As he reached to shove his carry-on bag in the overhead locker, his polo shirt raised, and Ogugua had to suppress a smile at the sight of the happy trail on his toned stomach. If there was a definition of a sight for sore eyes, this was it.

As he sat on the seat next to hers, she inhaled deeply, savouring the warm, spicy accords of his perfume. Her smile broadened as she prepared to make conversation with her good-looking seat partner, happy for at least that distraction for the duration of the flight.

“Good afternoon,” the guy muttered, not looking at her as he buckled his seat belt.

Ogugua’s smile disappeared as she grunted a greeting in response, feeling more than a little irked about not even being spared a glance. Shutting her eyes, she chided herself for thinking making conversation with a total stranger would make any difference. The sooner they took off, the sooner they landed in Abuja, the sooner Omoruyi’s funeral was over…

The better.

 

Olu

He’d barely settled into his seat before whipping out his tablet from his messenger bag, lying the bag face down under the seat before him and sliding up the screen of his device to continue reading the contract the Jova team had shared the evening before, not even noticing as the plane taxied down the runway, accelerated for takeoff, and launched itself in the sky, his eyes skimming the clauses he, Ian, and Ferdinand had argued over until very late at night, picking up where they’d left off in the morning. It was at times like this that he missed Amara, his former lawyer who, until she’d relocated to Canada two months before, had helped review his contracts. Granted, she had a knack for letting one too many clauses slip through the cracks, leading to one too many surprises, like missing the word business instead of calendar days for the timing of default for a service provider they’d engaged, and committing them to payments to a former collaborative partner the quarter before receiving payment from their client. So, no, Amara hadn’t been the sharpest tool in the box. But she would have been able to make sense of this crazy contract. And Merit, the expensive lawyer Nonso had introduced him to when they were about to enter their own partnership, was more interested in calculating her billable hours and, despite that, still never had more than a few minutes to spare in rushed Zoom meetings. So, no, not for him either.

No rights to any intellectual property covering, pertaining to, relating to any documentation or data furnished to the Collaborator pursuant hereto for use for the Applications are granted to the Collaborator by Jova Laboratories, except if Jova Laboratories does give the Collaborator the right to use the Applications in the manner in which they are designed to operate, are programmed, and are configured at the time of final delivery to the End User.

His nostrils flared, remembering Ian and Ferdinand’s assurance that it was just standard lingo and did not put in any jeopardy his intellectual property as a collaborator. Reading the clause again, he might not have studied law in school, but the clause read exactly like it would put his intellectual property into jeopardy.

“Something to drink, Sir?” came the voice of the Flight Attendant.

He shook his head, not looking up as he continued to contemplate the clause. He heard her direct the same question at the person next to him and squinted to block out their chatter.

“I can’t decide between pineapple and mango juice,” came a woman’s voice, and he had to steel himself from rolling his eyes. How hard was it to just answer yes or no?

“You could have both,” the Flight Attendant answered.

“That’s a great idea. I think I’ll do that.”

“Both of them now or one after the other?”

Olu shut his eyes at this point, wondering why an otherwise simple exchange was stretching to something straight out of an episode of Deal or No Deal.

“I think I’ll have them both now. And some water if I can stretch it further. Best to stay hydrated.”

The Flight Attendant laughed as she poured the woman’s drinks, and Olu stole a look at this very demanding seatmate of his. But as his eyes landed on the woman smiling her thanks at the Flight Attendant, with dimples that dug deep into her cheeks, what started off a fleeting glance turned into a riveted ogle. Her dimples were deep crescents on skin that made him think of brown sugar and cinnamon, and, as if sensing his stare, as she turned to look at him, as large, expressive, brown eyes held his, his contract was completely forgotten.

“You must be really thirsty,” he said, immediately wishing he’d come up with something suaver.

“I want to make every kobo of this overpriced seat count for something,” she smiled, lifting the cup with the amber-coloured fluid – the mango juice, he was sure – to her lips. “Because a slightly wider chair and a bit more leg room sure don’t.”

“Some people fly business more for its social benefits,” he said, a smile playing at his lips. “They pay a premium for the chance to look down their noses at the people making their way to the back. Or, even more commonly, to meet and network with people they think they can benefit from.”

She raised a brow. “And is that what you’re doing? Because you’re wasting your time if you think networking with me will make you better off.”

“Trust me, I’m much better off than I was a minute ago,” he laughed, extending his hand. “I’m Olu, by the way.”

She hesitated before smiling and accepting his. “O.G.”

“That’s your government name, O.G.?” he asked, his smile broadening.

“Until proven otherwise.”

“Spoken like a lawyer,” he chuckled. “God knows I need one right now.”

 

Ogugua

It was taking everything from keeping her mouth from stretching into a smile wide as a church door. It was bad enough that, rather than rebuff the man for barely acknowledging her existence for the first twenty minutes of the flight, she was even more intrigued looking at him up close than she’d been before, and that in itself was telling. With bushy brows and a piercing gaze that bore none of the markings of someone jaded by life, he looked younger than she’d initially thought. But maybe not that young, if the bags under his eyes and lone silver strand of hair at his temple were anything to go by. Her eyes drifted to his left hand, and she was comforted to see a bare ring finger.

“I guess a lawyer can’t hide its spots,” she answered.

His eyes widened. “You’re a lawyer?”

Her brows furrowed as she shrugged, wondering why he was reacting like she’d just told him she was an astronaut set to launch into Mars.

“This is crazy, and forgive me if you think this over-reaching, but would it be too much for you to read a clause in a contract?” he asked, his brows raised almost to his airline, a telltale sign of his excitement and anxiety.

Shrugging again, she accepted the tablet from him.

“It’s the one highlighted yellow,” he said, eager eyes still on her. “I’m about to partner with this company to develop an app, and I’m the collaborator the contract refers to. What do you think?”

Her face contorted in a frown as she read the clause once, and then a second time to be sure, before shrugging and handing the tablet back.

“It looks like this Jova company wants to claim full intellectual property ownership of what you’re collaborating on.”

 

Olu

“I knew it,” Olu muttered, looking at the highlighted text again. So much for Ian’s assurance about it not being anything to worry about. Well, Jova assuming total ownership of the app he had fully developed was something to worry about.

“Just for context, what’s this about?” she asked.

“They approached me about an app I developed a while ago. They wanted an outright purchase, but…” He allowed his voice trail, not quite wanting to divulge to a total stranger his reluctance to sell this time, after having already successfully sold half a dozen apps globally. “But I pushed for a partnership instead, mainly to see how well the app would perform on a European platform.”

“Before you continue talking to these people, you need to protect yourself. If you haven’t already, you need to copyright the idea. This will protect your app’s source code and content.”

He cocked his head to the side. “You’ve worked with apps before?”

“I used to work for a fintech company, and they had an app developed,” she answered with a shrug, like what she’d just said hadn’t switched on a light bulb in his head.

Because it had. None of the lawyers he had worked with in the past knew first-hand how app contracting worked.

“Why are you reviewing this yourself, anyway?” she asked. “You should run the entire agreement by a good lawyer, so you don’t sign away what I’m sure was months, if not even years, of hard work.”

“You say you used to work for a fintech company,” he said, excitement bubbling within. “What do you do now?”

Her face clouded over, and she offered a tight smile. “I’m in between jobs now. The company decided the Nigerian market wasn’t for them.”

“Is there a chance, any chance at all, you’d consider reviewing this agreement for me?” he asked, deciding to, what the heck, grab the bull right by its horns.

 

Ogugua

She recoiled, wondering when a flirtatious conversation had led to a request from a total stranger to review a whole agreement.

“Please. I have a week to get back to them and I’m sinking,” he added, noticing her hesitancy.

“I would have loved to help.” She wouldn’t. “But I have a lot on my plate right now.” And that was putting it mildly. “My week is very busy, and I don’t think I can fit it in.”

He nodded but his disappointment was evident. “I understand. And I apologise. I also have a crazy busy week ahead of me. I’ll figure it out.”

“You have over two hundred thousand lawyers in Nigeria to choose from,” she said. “If you put your mind to it, I’m sure you can have several options as quickly as when you get off this plane.”

“But how many will have experience with app contracting?” He smiled and something about the way it softened his face made her want to smile too.

“Okay, fine,” she conceded. “But the earliest I can get it back to you is Sunday.” The day after her return to Lagos.

“Sunday is perfect!” His smile broadened, and she had to look away to keep from staring at his lips, small but with a gentle fullness, as they curved. “I promise I’ll make it worth your while. Just name your price.”

The offer of money, especially at a time she needed it more than anything, was enough to make her ears perk in attention. Turning back to him, she took the tablet in his hand, opened the notes application, and typed an upper six-figure amount, one even she knew was unreasonable but which she expected him to negotiate down to one in the lower range.

“Done,” he said, accepting the tablet from her.

Her mouth parted on its own accord. Just like that? He was ready to pay her that amount to review an agreement she’d probably complete in an hour? Two at the most? She hadn’t even earned that amount as a salary with her last job.

“I don’t have any of my complimentary cards with me as this was kind of an impromptu trip,” he said.

“Oh, you don’t live in Lagos?” she asked, wondering why that piece of information made her heart sink ever so slightly.

He shook his head and chuckled. “I live in Abuja. I can only tolerate Lagos in small doses.”

“You get used to the madness,” she said, reaching for her bag, bringing out her phone, powering it on, and handing it to him.

“What takes you to Abuja?” he asked, taking the phone from her, his eyes not leaving hers.

Was there really any point adding any melancholy to their discussion? The last half hour had been the perfect escape from the tragedies in her life and she didn’t want what was left of their conversation to be tinged with pity.

“A couple of engagements,” she answered. “One tomorrow and the other on Friday. I leave on Saturday.”

 

Olu

Handing back her phone, he gave her his.

“Don’t forget to include your email address so I can shoot you the agreement tonight,” he said, before winking. “I’ve saved my number as Olu – Plane Guy. To help you remember.”

“Very thoughtful of you,” she laughed, those ridiculously deep dimples burrowing even deeper still.

He watched her, lost in her laughter, lost in looking at her dimpled face and dancing eyes. How did she look more beautiful the more he looked at her?

“Can I take you out for drinks or something while you’re in town?” he asked, knowing how ambitious that was, considering everything waiting for him back home, especially with how short her time in Abuja already was. But if mere minutes with her had lifted his spirits so much, he was ready to find a way to make that happen, because God knew he needed that cheering up more than anything.

 

Ogugua

Now, this was more like it!

“Call me,” she answered, just as the pilot announced the beginning of their descent into Abuja.

Ten minutes later, as they rose to their feet to disembark the plane, she marveled again at how tall he was, standing well over six feet. She smiled as his happy trail came to view again as he reached for his luggage, wondering if maybe – just maybe – she’d one day get a much better view of it…and everything it promised.

“That’s mine,” she pointed at her small carry-on suitcase, smiling her thanks at him as he pulled it out for her.

His eyes lingered on her, and she felt a surge of self-assurance, his attraction to her evident. Being fancied by a man this fine was one sure boost to her ego.

He walked behind her as they descended the airstair, and beside her as they walked down the tarmac to the airport’s arrival hall. With neither of them having checked-in luggage, they both made their way out of the building.

“Can I give you a ride to town?” he asked.

Spotting an elderly man in the bright yellow and black colours of Capital Trust Bank, the bank Zinna held the role of Managing Director, Ogugua shook her head and smiled. “No need. That’s mine over there.”

“It was wonderful meeting you, beautiful O.G.,” he said. “I look forward to seeing a whole lot more of you.”

Not wanting to sound too eager by reciprocating his words, which she felt just as strongly, she nodded and waved before pulling her box over to the black Toyota Corolla the Capital Trust Bank driver stood by.

 

Olu

He watched, unabashed, as she walked away. Shaped like an hourglass, she was just as impressive full-length as she’d been on the plane. And she was an itty-bitty thing too, standing no taller than five feet and three, maybe four, inches. He chuckled as she declined the driver’s offer and hauled her suitcase into the car’s trunk herself.

She was a feisty one.

He was still watching her when his driver pulled up in front of him.

 

Ogugua

As she got into the car, she stole a look in Olu’s direction and flushed when their eyes met. He raised his hand in a wave, and she did the same, just as he got into a silver Mercedes G-Wagon.

Hmm, fancy.

All through the forty-seven-minute ride to the Hilton, she was unable to wipe the smile off her face. To think, leaving Lagos, she’d been weighed down by the two funerals that lay ahead of her, about being so financially depleted her friend had to bail her out, and about the text she now regretted sending her ex-fiancée. Now, a little over two hours later, even though she still had the funerals to worry about, she was on the cusp of making more money than she had in three months, with a prospective date with an incredibly sexy man as the cherry on top.

Jachike who?

After receiving the room’s card key and allowing a Porter lead her to Zinna’s suite, once alone, she slipped off her shoes, collapsed on the plush bed, and was asleep in minutes.

“Sleeping Beauty! Is this what you came to Abuja to do?” Zinna’s loud voice awoke her.

Opening her eyes, it took a few seconds for awareness to kick in.

“What time is it?” she asked, sitting up as she remembered what they were meant to do that evening. “Are we still going to see Eva?”

“It’s 7:30pm and, no, we’re not seeing Eva today,” Zinna answered, sitting on the bed, exhaling as she pulled off her high-heeled shoes. “I just got off the phone with Bioye and she said they were trying to give Eva a breather from the mob of visitors she’s been receiving. Tomorrow being the Tribute Service and Friday the funeral, she has a very busy couple of days ahead of her.” She rose to her feet and padded over to the closet. “We’ll see her in the morning, before the day’s activities begin.”

Ogugua nodded, disappointed but also relieved. As much as she wanted to see Eva, she couldn’t deny the feeling of dread that had been lurking since she’d left home that afternoon.

“Thanks for getting me here,” she said, smiling at Zinna. “Flying business class paid off after all.”

“Yeah?” Zinna grinned at her. “And there you were, complaining about wasting money.”

“I still think it’s overrated, don’t get me wrong,” Ogugua said, her smile broadening. “What made it worth it was the person I flew with.”

Zinna’s eyes widened. “You met a guy?”

Ogugua giggled as her hands flew to her face. “I did.”

Zinna grinned, sitting on the bed again. “So, did you two talk? Did you exchange numbers?”

“Mmhmm,” Ogugua nodded, her grin now threatening to split her face. “He said he’ll call while I’m here so we can go out for drinks.” Her smile dimmed. “The only drawback is that he lives here in Abuja.”

“A minor detail,” Zinna said with a wave of her hand. “What does he do? You’re sure he’s not married?”

“He’s an app developer and, no, he’s not married,” Ogugua’s smile dimmed even further. “Or at least, I don’t think he is. He wasn’t wearing a ring.” She brightened. “Anyway, he offered to pay me to review an agreement for him. I threw him a high number thinking he wouldn’t bite, but he did.”

“Nice. A hot date and the chance to earn cool cash,” Zinna remarked, before giggling. “Maybe in more ways than one.”

As they laughed and talked more about Ogugua’s hot new catch and the guy Zinna had just started chatting with, an investment banker based in New York, they were able to forget, if only for that night, about the emotional couple of days that lay ahead.

 

CHAPTER TWO

HARD TO SAY GOODBYE

 

 

Ogugua

NOT SURPRISING, IT WAS IN A DIFFERENT mood Ogugua and Zinna left the hotel the next morning, both silent for the ten-minute drive to Omoruyi and Eva’s home. Even though they had fallen asleep the previous night giggling like teenagers, they had woken up somber, the weight of what they were set to do weighing heavily on them both. Wearing the black t-shirts emblazoned with Omoruyi’s face customized for that evening’s Tribute Service, they’d both burst into tears dressing up that morning, beholding the visual reminder of why they were there. It had taken them several minutes to regain their composure, and by the time they walked out of the Hilton’s doors and into the car ferrying them, both their faces hidden behind large sunglasses, neither was in the mood for conversation.

Walking through the gates of the Wuse 2 townhouse, Ogugua immediately understood why visitors had been discouraged the previous evening. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet, but the place was already milling with activity. Not surprising, considering how popular Omoruyi was. People, young and old, sat in clusters under canopies mounted in the compound, the grief and anguish on their faces their common denominator. Ogugua swallowed hard, determined not to break down before even sighting Eva. She – actually, all of them – had to be strong for Eva.

But sighting the roll-up banner of a smiling Omoruyi by the door threatened to unravel that resolve. It was one of the pictures from his fortieth birthday party only a few months before, a picture of him in a black blazer over a white shirt and blue jeans, smiling the big smile that had always been his, even as their star athlete back in secondary school. Then, he’d been leaner – much leaner – and muscled, the guy almost all the females in their school, from junior to senior secondary, had a crush on. Even though he’d fleshed out over the years, with several rolls of flesh softening his chiseled jawline, and at least an extra twenty inches around what had once been a narrow waist, he had remained just as charismatic and congenial, his kindness and humour drawing people to him like moths to a flame. At his birthday party, his laughter had reverberated around the packed hall even louder than the music, his ebullient persona making the already entertaining party even more so. Now, less than four months later, he was dead. Less than four months later, there was a date range under his name; January 29, 1981 to April 22, 2021.

Walking into the house, opposite the door stood a table covered in white organza, on which were a white vase with white roses, a register, and a picture of Omoruyi – a younger Omoruyi if his leaner face was anything to go by, probably about five or ten years younger – and the tears Ogugua had been struggling to subdue gained the upper hand.

“Behave yourself, I beg you,” Zinna whispered in Ogugua’s ear, as Ogugua’s hands flew to her mouth.

Biting her lower lip hard, Ogugua bent to sign the register. We’ll miss you, was all she could manage to write, not having the strength of wills to put down anything more. Because another minute at that table, and she would have flung herself over it in tears.

 

Olu

He watched mindlessly as the technicians tested the media equipment, and as the decorators put finishing touches to bedecking the hall. He’d come there under the pretext of making sure everything was going as planned for the evening’s ceremony, when the truth was he’d needed to get away from the sadness.

God, there was so much sadness.

Returning the previous evening, he’d been glad to find his brother’s house empty, visitors having been turned away to allow Eva rest. But even with the house emptied, even with both his mother and brother’s widow having retired to bed early, even with his sister, Eseosa, having taken charge of ‘Uyi’s kids, sitting in the living room alone, ‘Uyi’s absence was louder than having the place packed to its rafters.

Olu left for home less than thirty minutes after getting there, where he’d closed his eyes and fantasized about the woman he’d met on the plane, O.G, tempted to call her, but accepting he had to wait until after the funeral, at the very least. But wait or not, he allowed his mind conjure the image of her dimpled smile, eliciting one of his own.

And now, standing in the hall, watching the slideshow of ‘Uyi’s pictures on the big screen as the Event Planner argued with the person responsible for sound, Olu closed his eyes, conjuring O.G.’s image again.

Until the ring of his phone broke into his reverie.

“Where are you?” Eseosa asked.

“I came to the hall to check how things are going.”

“Well, we need you back here. Mom needs you to give Aunty Rita a ride to the Church.”

He sighed. So much for needing a little bit of space.

“I’m on my way.”

 

Ogugua

She bit her lip even harder, wrestling with her tears as she sighted Eva seated in the living room, flanked by Omoruyi’s mother, who looked to have aged a decade since when Ogugua saw her in January, and a woman she recognised as Eva’s sister, Emily. But as Eva’s mouth curved in a smile as their eyes met, Ogugua’s resolve crumbled like a house of sand.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” Eva said as a wailing Ogugua embraced her. “It’s okay.”

But it wasn’t okay. None of it was okay. Omoruyi wasn’t supposed to be dead. It wasn’t okay.

Eva rocked her as she cried, until she forced herself to get it together. She hadn’t flown all that way to add to the widow’s grief. Pulling away, she cupped Eva’s face in her hands.

“We’re here for you, you know that?”

Eva smiled and nodded, a wet sheen now in her eyes. “I know.”

A new visitor called Eva’s attention and Ogugua walked over to where Zinna now sat with another of their classmates, Bioye, and her husband, Abolore, incidentally their former teacher, and they were soon making the kind of small talk people made at times like that; where they were when they heard the news, how it was still so surreal a week later, and marvelling over how short life was. As they were joined by more of their old classmates – Tomi and Ikenna, a couple who’d flown in from Los Angeles the previous day, and Nonso Aguta, billionaire mogul and undeniably one of the richest men on the continent – Ogugua found herself tired of the regurgitated mundane chatter, resentful of the unpredictability of their very existence, and hating that the last time they’d so gathered had been to rejoice with Omoruyi…only to be there to mourn him mere months later.

As more people walked into the living room, her eyes drifted to the door, and her mouth parted as she recognised the tall man walking in with two older women.

What was Olu doing there?

“Olu, my man,” Nonso called out, raising a hand to beckon him over.

 

Olu

He smiled upon hearing Nonso’s voice, pleased he had arrived early as promised. After having spent the first few days following ‘Uyi’s death in Abuja helping them sort out logistics, Nonso left for Lagos earlier that week, with the assurance he would return for the funeral. Olu had spoken to him before leaving Lagos the previous day and was glad he had arrived early as he’d promised.

As Olu made his way across the room to join Nonso and the rest of ‘Uyi’s classmates, his eyes widened as they held an equally wide pair, eyes of the last person, the very last person, he expected to see there.

Unless, after spending so much time thinking about her, his imagination had conjured her into being.

 

Ogugua

She watched, stunned, as Olu walked over, the recognition she saw in his eyes her confirmation that this was no doppelgänger, no extreme lookalike. This was the guy she’d met on the plane, the guy who had agreed to pay her an insane amount of money for something she could do with her eyes closed, the guy with whom she was hoping to break her extended dating drought.

She watched as Nonso rose to his feet and embraced him, and as Bioye and Abolore did the same. She watched as even Zinna embraced him, and as Tomi and Ikenna rose to hug him as well. When it got to her turn, she extended her hand to his, still in a daze.

“Don’t you remember Olumese? Omoruyi’s brother?” Zinna’s voice came from where she sat next to her, but sounding like it was echoing from a far distance.

Olumese? Omoruyi’s brother who sometimes accompanied their parents to their school on visiting days? The little kid who had come for their graduation ceremony looking adorable in black polka dot suspenders over a sparkling white shirt, black trousers with razor sharp gators, and a bright red bow tie?

That kid was…was Olu – Plane Guy?

 

Olu

“You’ve met Ogugua, right? Our Head Girl from school,” Nonso asked.

Ogugua? The Head Girl of ‘Uyi’s year in Malomo High? The same Head Girl who had pulled his cheeks like he was a toddler when he’d attended his brother’s graduation?

“Look at you looking all dapper!” she had remarked back then. “Gosh, you’re so adorable.”

As upset as his eight-year-old self had been to be treated like he was still in diapers by pretty much all his older brother’s friends, the first thing he’d done when he got home was look up the word dapper.

No, there had to be some kind of mistake. There was absolutely no way the woman he’d met on the plane the previous day was his older brother’s contemporary. There was no way an entire decade separated them. There was absolutely no way the woman he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about was ten years older.

There had to be some mistake.

Before he could say anything, Eseosa rushed up to them. “Hi guys,” she said, breathless, before turning to him. “We need you.”

And with his sister’s hand wrapped around his, he was led away.

 

Ogugua

As Olu walked away with Omoruyi’s sister, Ogugua let out a long breath she didn’t even know she’d been holding. As Nonso, Ikenna, Abolore, and their other classmate who had just arrived, Bonju, walked outside to talk, Ogugua grabbed Zinna’s arm.

“Babe, you won’t believe what just…”

But she was interrupted when Bioye, who had been on the phone, nodded and motioned at Zinna.

“Hold that thought, O.G. There appears to be an issue with the caterer, so Bioye and I are trying to arrange a backup just in case,” Zinna said, rising alongside Bioye and walking out of the living room.

As Tomi excused herself to take a phone call, Ogugua slipped her sunglasses back on and folded her arms, in no mood to talk to anyone or be roped into conversation, still stunned by the revelation that Olu was Omoruyi’s much, muchyounger brother.

“You have the right idea,” came Alero’s voice, another old classmate. “I wish I’d brought along a pair of sunglasses to hide these red eyes. I haven’t been able to stop crying since I heard.” Her voice broke. “And it wasn’t even like we were that close, Omoruyi and I. Before the reunion two years ago, I hadn’t even seen him since we left school. But he was just such a good guy, you know.”

Ogugua nodded, understanding her perfectly. “You’re going to need a pair for tomorrow especially. For the funeral.”

Alero dabbed at her eyes with a well-used piece of tissue paper, and Ogugua handed her a fresh pack of Kleenex from her handbag, having come prepared and equipped with more than enough. Alero smiled as she accepted it, and Ogugua noticed the flash of light from an impressive three-stoned diamond ring.

“You and Bonju are engaged?”

Alero smiled through her tears and nodded. “We got engaged two weeks ago.”

Ogugua smiled. “That’s beautiful. I’m happy for you both.”

And that she truly was. After a very scandalous start to their relationship back in secondary school, she’d been both surprised and happy to hear they had reconnected decades later.

“Have you fixed a date?” she asked.

Alero shook her head. “Not yet. After hearing about Omoruyi’s death, we haven’t been able to think of anything else.”

Ogugua nodded. She completely got that.

They sat there in silence afterwards, watching people file in and out of the house, and their other classmates flit about helping with some arrangement or the other. For someone who typically took charge, Ogugua was content to remain on the sidelines, keeping her eyes peeled for Olu, hoping for a chance to talk about the crazy coincidence of them having Omoruyi in common, but also aware that was not the time or place for a conversation like that.

All too soon, it was time to move to the hall that had been rented a few streets away, on Dar es Salam Crescent, for the Tribute Service. With Zinna still out with Bioye, Ogugua hitched a ride to the venue with Alero and Bonju. The hall was already half full when they got there, and she distracted herself admiring the simple but classy décor of white tulle and floral arrangements of lilies, roses, and orchids, in white, yellow, and purple. As more people filed in, and as they waited for the ceremony to begin, she busied herself with the colourful program, browsing through pictures of Omoruyi; from infancy, to his teenage years when she’d first known him, to him as a young adult, to being newly married to Eva, and to being a family man – a husband and father. In an old picture of him with his siblings and parents, Ogugua’s eyes rested on the small boy standing no taller than Omoruyi’s hip. But looking at the picture, there was no question that the pouting child was, indeed, the man she had flown to Abuja with.

The lights in the hall dimmed as the event started, and Ogugua went along with the proceedings in auto pilot mode, singing along when needed and following the bible passages Eseosa and Julian read, doing her best to detach emotionally, lest she unravel the way she had in the morning. When it was time for speeches, she listened to emotional tributes from Omoruyi’s work colleagues, neighbours, and even gym buddies. And then Nonso took to the stage.

“’Uyi and I met as teenagers, and we weren’t even that close,” he began, a wistful smile on his face. “He was one of the popular kids and I was an awkward one who hovered around on the fringes, not quite cool enough to fit in. He was the captain of the track and field, basketball, and volleyball teams, and girls went weak in the knees at the mere mention of his name.” He shook his head and chuckled. “I was so jealous of him.”

As people laughed in response, Ogugua watched Nonso in fascination, having not seen him speak with that much candour in years. Even though he had been the class clown of their year back in school, as the billionaire emerged, the comedian had not just taken a back seat but had disappeared completely out of sight, leaving in its place a man of little words and even less emotion. But if the way he was gripping the podium was anything to go by, there was nothing hidden about his emotions that evening.

“We ran into each other after university,” Nonso went on. “I didn’t have a job so I was hustling, doing anything I could to make ends meet. A shyster tricked me out of all my savings, and as I was walking home from the fake address the guy had given me, having lost not only all my money but some I’d even borrowed, I contemplated taking my life. I had no idea how I would face the people I owed money, and I had lost all hope for the future.” He paused, in reflection. “I was standing at a bus stop along Adeniyi Jones Avenue in Ikeja, with no idea how I would afford my transport fare back home to Yaba, when I heard my name from a passing car. It was ‘Uyi on his way home from a job interview. He gave me all the money he had on him, five thousand naira, took my phone number, and made sure to check on me weekly, sometimes even sending me money, money he didn’t have.” Nonso’s voice broke, and he bowed his head to compose himself.

The room went completely quiet, with not even the sound of the intermittent cough or rustling of pages. Nonso Aguta was a recognisable personality, and it wasn’t only the Malomo High alumni that was surprised by this very rare display of emotion.

“That was fifteen years ago, and even though we didn’t stay in touch as we ought to have over the years, I never forgot that act of kindness. And I never will.” He turned to where Eva sat in the front row. “I pledge here, before everybody, that I will take care of you, Julian, and Olivia. For the rest of your lives, you will never want for anything. I promise.”

From the multimedia screen, Ogugua saw Eva place her hands together and nod, mouthing thank you. As Nonso walked off the stage, reaching for his handkerchief to wipe his face, Ogugua made no attempt to wipe the tears now streaming freely down her face.

But as Olu took the stage, her tears stopped. He was now in the same black customized t-shirt everyone wore, and he looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

 

Olu

He took a deep breath as he stood before the packed hall, not remembering a word of the entire speech he had rehearsed.

“’Uyi was not only the best brother anyone could have, he was also the very best friend.” He swallowed hard to push back the lump in his throat and looked up, knowing that was as far as he could go if he wanted to avoid breaking down in tears before everyone, his brother’s wife and children especially, whom he was supposed to be strong for. “On behalf of the Idemudia family, I’d like to thank you all for being here. Many of you travelled from afar to be here, and we appreciate you. We’re grateful for all the gifts in cash and kind, and for all your love and support. Thank you. Details for tomorrow are in the program.” He exhaled and shut his eyes briefly, before reopening them. “If you don’t mind, we’d love everyone to file out so we can release balloons in honour of our beloved husband, father, brother, son, and friend.”

 

Ogugua

Standing outside a few minutes later, after being handed a single white helium balloon by an usher, Ogugua joined the rest of the mourners to release it, as Boyz II Men’s It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday played. As the sea of balloons floated up in the sky, she could imagine Omoruyi smiling in appreciation, and rather than sadden her further, it consoled her.

 

Olu

He watched the floating balloons with a lump in his throat, knowing the celestial sight of the globes of white rising into the marbled night sky would have put a broad smile on his brother’s face.

“We go dey see, my gee,” he whispered the greeting he and ‘Uyi exchanged every time they bade each other farewell. “We go align later.”

Sighing, he lowered his eyes and saw one other person still looking up into the sky, even though the balloons had all but disappeared completely from sight. And he knew there was no better time to address the elephant that had been in the room since ten o’clock that morning.

“Hi, O.G,” he said, walking up to her.

Ogugua turned to look at him, but the smile that curved her lips was hesitant.

“Hi, Olumese.”

That she had chosen not to call him the name he’d introduced himself with the previous day was indicative of the change in their dynamic.

“How crazy is this!” he chuckled, his own laughter more nervous and less self-assured than it normally was. “How crazy is it for us to have ‘Uyi in common!”

“Yep, crazy!”

“You called me dapper at your graduation ceremony. It was from you I first heard the word.”

She shrugged, her smile dimming. “You did look adorable. I had no idea it was you yesterday.” Her eyes held his. “Did you know it was me?”

“No, not at all,” he said, raising his hands in his defence. “I had no idea you were…” A whole decade older? “…classmates with ‘Uyi.”

“But why didn’t I see you at his birthday party in January?” Ogugua asked, her brows furrowed, and eyes narrowed, almost in accusation.

“I was away for business. My connecting flight to Nigeria was delayed and my plane didn’t land in Abuja till 11pm. I got to the party at about 1am. I guess you must have already left.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I left early.”

Awkward silence followed before he smiled at her. “I hope this isn’t going to change our plans. Not the contract you agreed to help me review…”

“You didn’t send it to me last night.”

“I apologise. I got caught up with stuff,” he answered, smiling. “So, does that mean you’ll still help?”

She shrugged. “Sure. Why not?”

“And drinks before you leave Abuja?” he asked, pushing his luck. Because not even the realisation that she was that much older was enough to taper his attraction to her.

She scoffed but her smile deepened, revealing those deep dimples that made him weak in the knees the previous day…and were making him weak in the knees even then.

“Olumese!” his Aunt Mercy hollered from across the compound.

He sighed, hating the reminder that he had more to do than hang around talking to a woman he fancied. “I have to run. I’ll send the agreement tonight.” Before turning around, he raised a brow. “So, I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Translation was ‘So, we’ll talk more about drinks tomorrow?’

She nodded. “Yeah, sure. Try to get plenty of rest. It’s going to be a heavy one.”

Yep, he knew that only too well.

 

Ogugua

She watched him walk away, not understanding why even the visual of her pulling his cheeks as a child wasn’t enough to make her un-notice his debilitating desirability. In the fitted t-shirt, his toned body was even more defined, and even though he’d appeared nervous, his brown eyes still pulled her in, and it had taken all her self-control not to get lost in them all over again.

“There you are! I’ve been looking for you,” came Zinna’s voice as she walked up to Ogugua, handing her a pack of food. “The ushers are trying to distribute these to everyone before they leave. The caterer Bioye and I found today could only get them here a few minutes ago, which isn’t bad considering the short notice.” She clucked her tongue. “Can you imagine the caterer Omoruyi’s family engaged said she thought the food was only for tomorrow?”

Ogugua nodded as Zinna talked, barely registering what she was saying.

“And can you imagine Nonso trying to act the hero, when the rest of us also want to do our part to support Eva and the kids?” Zinna retorted. “That guy is so full of himself, but he’s going to see that tonight isn’t The Nonso Show.”

Before Ogugua could say anything in response, Zinna held her by the wrist and led her where the Malomo High gang – Nonso, Tomi, Ikenna, Bioye, Abolore, Bonju, Alero, and Mofe, who had just arrived that evening – stood.

“I’m glad we’re all still here,” Zinna said, going straight to the point. “We all want to support Eva. This shouldn’t be for just one person to take control over. I suggest we start a trust fund and chip in. Not just those of us here tonight, but the many people from our set who couldn’t be here but feel just as strongly about supporting Omoruyi’s family.”

Ikenna nodded. “That’s a great idea. Tomi and I were already considering assuming responsibility for his children’s tuition going forward.”

“Rather than do that, you could just contribute to a monthly pool,” Zinna answered. “Eva and the kids can access half of it monthly, and the other half of it will be invested for them in stocks, bonds, or whatever.” She turned to look at Nonso. “And Nonso and I could be the trustees of this fund.”

“I’m totally on board with this suggestion,” Bonju said. “But I hope we won’t be limited to a contribution amount?”

Zinna shook her head. “There will be a baseline, but no ceiling. You can contribute as much as you want.”

Ogugua sighed, already intimidated by yet another cost line to her monthly spend. As much as she agreed with the idea of supporting Eva, her finances could not accommodate that.

“I think it’s a great idea, and I’ll happily contribute to this fund,” Nonso said. “But that’s not going to stop me from supporting Eva on my own. It’s what I’ve decided to do for ‘Uyi, and nobody can make me feel bad about it.”

He glared at Zinna as he spoke, and as she glared back, the tension was palpable.

“I think it’s a beautiful thing for you to support Omoruyi, and nobody will stop you,” Alero said. “The more money Eva and the kids can access, the better.”

That seemed to appease everyone, as Zinna shrugged and Nonso’s lips curved in a triumphant smile.

As the group dispersed, Zinna tore open her food pack and bit into a spring roll. “You wanted to tell me something earlier?”

Ogugua sighed again. “Babe, you know I can’t afford to contribute to any fund right now.”

“O.G, I got you. I’ll pay your part. I just don’t want to leave room for people to come up with excuses. If we don’t go that hard, we won’t have enough money for those kids. They’re almost college age, and it isn’t cheap.” She frowned. “Was that what you wanted to talk about in the morning?”

“No,” Ogugua answered, before leaning closer. “Olu is the guy from the plane.”

“Olu? Olumese?” Zinna exclaimed, her eyes widening. “Olumese is the sexy guy from the plane who agreed to pay you a fortune to review his agreement?”

Ogugua covered her mouth as she laughed. “Can you believe it?”

“You did mention an app. I know he’s made a fortune from developing apps. He sold his first app a few years ago and made a truckload of money. I hear he’s sold quite a few more after that. The guy is minted!” Zinna remarked. “So, no wonder he didn’t balk at the amount you asked for. He could have even paid more.”

“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Ogugua giggled,

Zinna turned to look at her. “Review his app, collect his money, but as for any other thing, kill it.”

“What other thing? There’s no other thing,” Ogugua muttered, no longer able to hold Zinna’s gaze.

“I hope not. That’s Olumese, Omoruyi’s waaaaay younger brother. Didn’t their mother even give birth to him when we were already in Malomo?” Zinna answered, shaking her head. “Kill that thought, babe!”

And with that, the fantasy of hooking up with the sexy guy from the plane went up in smoke.

 

The following morning, rising to her feet along with the rest of the congregation as the coffin arrived the church, Ogugua watched, trying to detach the memory of the man she knew from the reality of the form held in the glossy white and gold box. With two men from the undertakers in the lead, Nonso, Ikenna, Bonju, Mofe, Abolore, and one of Omoruyi’s cousins were pallbearers, carrying the coffin to its stand before the altar. As they moved down the aisle, Alero, who was seated next to Ogugua, squeezed her hand so hard she winced. But Ogugua welcomed the pain, anything that would distract her from this final stage of the farewell. As she squeezed Alero’s hand back, Zinna, who was seated on her other side, squeezed her shoulder with one hand, dabbing her eyes with the other. On the pew in front of theirs, Tomi was sobbing into a handkerchief and Ogonna – another classmate and also Nonso’s girlfriend, who had flown in from Lagos just that morning – looked on with a quivering chin. In front, Eva stood, flanked by her children, with her sister and Bioye closing in the ranks. Eseosa and Olu sat on either end of that front pew, tradition having barred their mother and older relatives from attending.

As the Mass progressed, Ogugua stole glances at Eva, marvelling at the widow’s strength as her gaze remained focused on the Priest, wondering how she hadn’t collapsed in a tearful heap on the coffin. All Ogugua could do was pray that she had that same strength in June, when she, her mother, and siblings buried her father in their hometown of Ogidi.

 

Olu

An hour after Mass ended, standing in the cemetery as the coffin was lowered, all Olu could do was watch on as his brother was lowered into the ground, an act that was as permanent as it was devastating. With ‘Uyi’s physical form now committed to dust, Olu finally had to accept that this was the final goodbye.

A stoic Eva had her arms wrapped around her children as they wept, and Eseosa was enveloped in a bear hug by her husband, Martin. So, there was nobody Olu could hold, nobody he could pretend to comfort while truly drawing comfort for himself.

Swallowing hard, he crossed his hands behind his back and looked up to push back his tears…and pray for a glimpse of the new form his brother had assumed.

That of an angel.

 

Ogugua

She watched Olu standing alone, looking up to the heavens, and her heart broke for him. While the couples around them – Tomi and Ikenna, Bioye and Abolore, Bonju and Alero, Nonso and Ogonna – comforted each other, she and Zinna stood with their arms around each other, neither of them crying, both of them emotionally spent. Mofe stood a few feet away from them, also alone, his eyes bloodshot, and Ogugua admired him for being the only one brave enough not to wear sunglasses. Heck, even Alero had found a pair for the day. Because whether they were weeping buckets like Bioye and Alero, or emotionally drained like herself and Zinna, it was, without a doubt, one of the saddest days any of them would ever live.

As food packs were handed as they walked out of the cemetery gates, Ogugua was relieved there would be no reception at the house, not wanting to be around that sorrow and sadness for a minute longer.

Or run the risk of seeing Olu again.

 

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