21 Jul Preview: A Complicated Kind Of Love
THE RAPTUROUS APPLAUSE from the crowd was all she needed to confirm it was yet another job well done. Smiling as she took a look at the hall, watching as old classmates reunited over good food, good music and good chatter, she’d never felt prouder of herself. And to think it was just the mixer! With all she had planned for the main Prom, it was going to blow all their minds.
“Nice party, Bioye,” Nonso called out from where he stood beneath the podium. “But that’s not what we agreed. You promised I wouldn’t be made the centre of attention at all.”
“Nonso, I’m so sorry. I swear, I didn’t have your name on my list at all,” she apologised, waving the sheets in her hand for emphasis. How could she have deliberately gone against the only person to support the reunion in the first place?
“It’s cool,” he said, his own gaze drifting.
Looking in the direction of his gaze, it took everything in her not to grunt in her disapproval. Twenty years might have been a long time, but clearly not long enough to forget the epic disgrace he’d suffered in the hands of the woman he was staring at like a lap dog, Ogonna Maduka. And that wasn’t the only reason Bioye despised the very sight of her. But ah well, to each man his own.
“We’ll talk later,” he said, waving at her. “Well done.”
Bioye waved back as he walked away, and continued to scan the room, trying to decide what table to join. In years gone by, she would have naturally gravitated to where Ogonna sat, as, once upon her time, that had been her best friend. But looking at her, and the girls around her, with their curled lips and mocking laughter as they looked around the room, tearing everyone to pieces she was sure, it was even more evident that she no longer belonged there.
Her eyes lit up when they landed on the table with Tomi, Zinna, Eva, Ogugua and Alero, but she hesitated, not sure if she wanted to be around the smartest girls in their set. The last thing she wanted to appear was stupid.
Loud whispering around the DJ’s table made her turn in that direction and her brows furrowed when she saw Deina and Fisayo, the worst gossip she’d ever come across in her life, giggling and rushing back to their table. And when Brandy and Monica’s The Boy Is Mine, she knew they were definitely up to no good.
And she could soon tell exactly what.
As her eyes landed on the tall, graceful Keji cat-walking into the hall, she hissed under her breath. The very last thing she needed was drama, but clearly, that was what people wanted. Looking towards Mofe and Morin, from the firm set of their faces, the mischief-makers had achieved what they’d set out to. If she weren’t the hostess, she would have sought them out to give each of them a slap across the face. Starting with their Queen B, Ogonna.
“Toju!” she heard someone call out.
And her heart skipped a beat.
Looking towards the door, her pulse race quickened at the sight of Toju Ereuwa, her high school love, the person she’d been looking forward to seeing the most, and, if she were to be honest, the real reason she’d been so determined to put the reunion together in the first place.
She’d had a crush on him from the very first time she set her eyes on him in junior secondary school. Tall and lanky, he towered over the rest of them even as young kids. He, along with Omoruyi, Bonju and Damola Odedina, were the most popular boys in their set, and as everyone vied for their attention, Bioye made sure to keep them at a friendly distance.
Even though she’d always been loud and vivacious, not many knew that beneath all the smiles, giggles and laughter was an incredibly shy girl who was very self-conscious about the fact she was slightly heavier than the other girls. She masked her insecurities by going out of her way to be the fun one, thinking that was all she had to offer anyway.
But all that had changed in the summer of 1995. Doyin Thorpe, the coolest girl in their set at the time, turned 13 and her party was the event of the holiday. Bioye’s father had insisted on dropping her there himself and had happily obliged her request to pick up her friends, Ogonna, Deina and Jolomi Edgar. In her short, lime green baby doll dress and knee-high boots in white patent leather, even though she was heavier than her friends, she felt reasonable happy with her appearance and was ready to just enjoy the party by dancing and vibing with the music, as she always did.
She’d been dancing to Heavy D & The Boyz’s Now That We Found Love, when she’d locked eyes with Toju, who was standing with Omoruyi, Bonju and Folarin Adefulu on the far side of the room. Just as she always did, she smiled and waved but had been surprised to see him not just wave back but make his way over to her.
“Hey,” she’d answered, doing her best not to let he smile waver. None of the guys had ever looked at her with anything more than friendly interest, so she didn’t think this was going to be any different.
“I love your outfit,” he said, over the loud music. “You look da bomb!”
Her smile grew even wider, as she patted down her crimped braids, the realisation that the very handsome Toju, in his red Adidas tracksuit and white Kangol cap, was more than a little interested in her.
“Yeah?” was her response, wanting to prompt him to repeat his compliment, to confirm that the interest she was seeing in his eyes was not just her imagination.
Smiling and leaning closer, just as Brotherhood Creed’s Helluva started playing, he whispered in her ear. “Hell, yeah.”
They were inseparable from that very moment, and just like that, she went from being the one seemingly least interested in any of the guys, to being a part of one of the tightest romantic pairings of all. Toju was her boyfriend, soul mate and best friend wrapped in one tall, dark, hunky package, and she couldn’t believe her luck. This, coupled with the fact that she lost her baby weight along the way, helped her finally shirk her insecurities and grow into herself.
Apart from a short breakup in 1997, at the start of their second year of senior secondary school, they were together for the next six years. The last two were the most difficult, with her having moved to London for a degree in Creative Writing & English Literature from the University of Westminster. Making it more difficult was the fact that, not only had he remained in Nigeria, he was also still struggling with the JAMB examination that would get him a place in university. This took its toll on all her attempts to keep their love alive across the seas that separated them.
In those first couple of years, for the daily, long emails she sent, he sent a scant response only about once a week. And when she called him at home, he was never available to talk to her.
“You don’t understand what it’s like not to be in school when even my juniors are now getting in!” he’d exploded when she confronted him, one of the times she’d been able to get him on the phone. “You’re over there in England, doing great for yourself, and you expect me to be here, sitting down and waiting for you to call me?”
She’d had no choice but to concede, accepting that, yes, she really didn’t know how he felt, and yes, he really didn’t need the distraction of her calls and emails while he studied to retake his exams. After another unsuccessful go at the exam, he became even more inaccessible. But by this time, even she’d tired of being the one playing the chasing game. Soon, her daily mails became a couple a week and, after a while, she no longer even remembered to write, talk less call. The reason she never had an answer when asked when exactly they broke up was that they never officially did. Things just…faded.
She started dating again; first an Australian guy called Logan, then a half Jamaican, half Indonesian guy called Farel, before getting into a long-term relationship with a Northern Nigerian, a good-looking guy called Bako whom she was with for several years. But like it had happened with Toju, all the relationships came to amicable ends after running their course. Having dated Bako into her early 30s, she’d had the highest hopes about him in particular, but when he’d chosen to return to Nigeria several years before she’d been ready to, they both knew that was the effective end of their time together.
But that evening, staring at Toju as he walked into the room, in a tweed unstructured blazer over a white shirt and indigo blue jeans, she knew exactly why none of her relationships had ever been able to stick.
She’d been comparing all the guys to him…and none of them had ever measured up.
She was rushing across the room before she could even stop herself, the squeal of delight leaving her lips before she could do anything to restrain it. And when he was finally within reach, she’d leapt into his arms, closing a fifteen-year gap like it had never happened. For the first time since the idea for the twenty-year reunion took root in her head, it finally felt worth it.
“My one and only,” he said, as they pulled apart, getting a good look at each other for the first time in years. “Your pictures haven’t done you any justice, Love bug. You’re gorgeous.”
“And you haven’t aged a single day,” she gushed, feeling like she was 13 years old all over again. “And ditto about your pictures. You look so much better in the flesh.”
They’d found each other on Facebook a few years before. A couple of years before that when, on one of her few trips to Nigeria, she’d decided to organize a 10-year reunion for their set, reuniting with him had been her driving force. But that proved to be easier desired than done, as nobody she was in contact knew where he was, or what he was up to. All she’d been able to find out was that he’d finished from the University of Benin and lived somewhere in the South-South; some said Port-Harcourt, some said Warri, some said Sapele, some even said Uyo. There had been so many guesses, but nobody seemed to know anything for sure. That, alongside the dismal attendance, had made her regret wasting her time with the reunion, and she’d returned to England despondent.
And then one day, just like that, she’d gotten a friend request from him. She’d been at work when she’d seen the notification; Toju Ereuwa has sent you a friend request. Her heart had skipped several beats when she’d clicked on his profile and confirmed that, indeed, it was him. She spent the rest of the workday, and even evening when she got home, pouring through his photo gallery, drinking in images of what he now looked like so many years later. Sexier and more self-assured than she remembered, time had definitely been kind to him.
Hey, there. It’s good to reconnect. Where have you been? She contemplated adding I’ve been looking for you for years, but didn’t want to appear too desperate, so she left it at that.
It had taken him a good week to reply her.
Hey, Bioye. It’s great to connect. You look good. Cheers!
She’d stared at her screen like it was the devil, not believing what awful combination of words it had regurgitated for her to see. After so many years wondering where he was, he was sending her the most template of replies. In that very moment, she decided replying would be a waste of time, and so she’d deleted the message thread and gone on with her life.
Years later, having made the decision to move back to Nigeria, and with the idea for a twenty-year reunion taking shape in her mind, she thought about him again, giving herself the liberty to wonder all the ‘what if’s’; what if she reached out to him again, what if she invited him for the reunion, what if, this time, he came, what if he was still unattached, what if they were able to revive their love? Only a few months shy of her thirty-seventh birthday, she wasn’t at all averse to exploring all the possibilities. So, as she’d reached out to Nonso about sponsoring the event, and as she reached out to their other classmates, she’d also reached out to him…Toju.
That’s a fantastic idea! I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since we left school. We don dey old, Love bug!
It was the first time he’d used his old term of endearment for her, and she’d been sold from that very minute.
Are you in Lagos? She’d written.
Actually, no. He’d replied. I live in Calabar, but I’m moving to Lagos in a month. I just got a job there. So, I’ll already be there by the time of the party.
That’s great. I just moved back home as well.
Really? That’s fantastic. It’ll be so great to talk, like old times.
Talk. Maybe he couldn’t remember, but, back in the old days, they’d done so much more than talk…
Awesome. She’d replied instead. Send me your email address so I can shoot you the invitation. It’s a whole weekend, so you’ll need to block it out.
I’ll do just that. I can’t wait to see you again.
After that exchange, she’d deliberately not contacted him again, wanting to play it cool, not wanting to appear too eager. But one look at him that evening, and all the composure, all the decorum, all the restraint she thought she had, had gone flying in the wind.
And smiling up at him, she didn’t regret one minute of it.
“I just can’t stop looking at you,” he said, as they walked along the quiet hallway. The Mixer was long over, and he’d kept her company as she supervised the set up of the same hall for the next day’s picture session. “It feels like someone put me in a time machine and sent me back to 1999…except a way better version of it.”
She smiled up at him. No, this was so, so much better than 1999.
“I can’t explain how seeing you again is making me feel, Bioye,” he tilted up her head. “I have used you as the standard to measure every single person I’ve dated in the last twenty years.”
“Me too,” she answered, no longer caring about playing it cool. “I always compared every relationship I had with ours.”
“And none ever came close, right?”
She shook her head. “None.”
Still with his finger under her chin, he held her gaze for a long time, and she didn’t know if he was going to stare at her like that for the rest of the evening…or kiss her.
“Losing you is one of the biggest regrets of my life,” he finally said. “I was so frustrated about not getting into school, and resentful of you guys that had left the country. I wish I’d handled things better. I wish I’d met you half way.”
“Maybe if you had, we wouldn’t be here. Maybe we would have broken up long ago.”
He smiled and shook his head. “Not a chance, love bug. I never would have let you go. I’d have married you by now.”
Her eyes widened and her mouth went dry, her heart racing as he voiced what she also knew deep in her heart. If they hadn’t drifted apart, if they hadn’t been on different continents, in different parts of the world, there was no way they could have ever parted.
“You’re my forever love,” he said, lowering his head to hers. “My one and only.”
And as he kissed her, as they bridged a twenty-year old gap, as they healed decades of pain and heartbreak, she had never felt happier in her whole life.
Lying in his arms, she didn’t want to be anywhere else ever again.
“My one and only,” he said, nuzzling his face in her hair. “That was so much better than anything I could have ever dug up from memory.”
Yet again, he was echoing all her sentiments. The night they’d just spent together eclipsed what the clumsy, inexperienced versions of themselves in 1999 ever had. Back then, she’d been with a boy…but now, she was in the arms of a man…a man whose touch and kisses had driven her to insane peaks of passion several times that night. Just like he’d said, nothing she could have dug up from memory could have given her a foretaste of this heaven…this bliss.
But just like all good things, their time in bed had to come to an end.
“I have to go,” she said, making to sit up. “It’s already 7am and I promised the guys I’d be at the pitch to watch them play soccer.”
“Do you really have to be there?” he implored, pulling her back in bed
“I’m the organiser, Toju,” she giggled. “I should be there!”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine without you,” he answered, creating a trail of kisses from her neck down to her shoulders.
“And I also need to check you into your room,” she giggled, even though her body was beginning to succumb to the heat that was radiating from within her. “You’ve been assigned a room of your own and shouldn’t have to be floating around mine.”
“I’m exactly where I need to be,” he said, his lips claiming hers.
Taking with it all plans of watching the football game.
They were finally able to tear themselves apart in time for the class photograph, and even though they weren’t positioned next to each other, they stole so many glances, they might have as well been. With the number of times they smiled and looked across at each other, they were barely able to get in focus for any of the pictures.
“How long is lunch going to be?” he asked, as they made their way, hand-in-hand, to the restaurant. “And how soon can we be back upstairs?”
“You better get your mind out of there,” she giggled. “Lunch is going to be a very long one. Don’t forget we have the presentation from the school Principal and all, or didn’t you look at your program? And, of course, Prom is tonight.”
“We still have those precious couple of hours between both events,” he said, pulling her to himself and kissing her.
“Get a room, guys!” Bonju muttered, as he and Nonso walked past.
“Love wan tin tin!” Bambo Ashiru teased.
“Awww, you guys are the cutest!” Morin cooed, as she and Mofe made their way into the restaurant.
But Bioye could hear none of them. Looking up at Toju, her eyes dilated with the enormity of the emotions she was feeling, she had never felt happier in her entire life. Holding hands, they entered the restaurant, and Bioye smiled as he pulled out a seat for her. He was the perfect gentleman…the very answer to every prayer she’d made over the last twenty years…her very wish come true.
“Bioye, nice party!” Onome Horsfall remarked, walking up to their table. “And it’s so good to see you guys together. Just like old times.”
Bioye smiled at Onome, who’d been family friends with Toju back then, and one of the people she’d reached out to when she was trying to locate him years later. But even though Onome and Toju had both finished from the University of Benin, having recently gotten married at the time, she hadn’t known much about his whereabouts then either.
“Thanks, Onome,” Bioye beamed at Toju. “It’s better than old times.”
“Aww, lovely,” Onome smiled, before turning to Toju. “How are the kids? I saw Misan on your mom’s WhatsApp status the other day. She’s so big now. How old is she, six? She and Tofe look more like you every day.”
Bioye’s eyed widened in her surprise, just as Toju’s did the same, but his in own helplessness. Onome’s widened as well, as she realised her faux pas.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry…” she started to apologise.
“You have kids?” Bioye asked Toju, her voice but a whisper. “You’re married?”
“Love bug, it’s not like that…”
“No, he’s not married o!” Onome cut in, in her desperation to right her wrong. “He and Stella…”
“Onome, you’ve done and said enough,” he snapped, glaring at his old friend.
“Stella? Is that your wife?” Bioye demanded, her numbness giving way to a seething rage. “You’re married with kids, but chose to lie your way into my bed?”
“Bioye, will you just listen?” he protested. “Just listen for a minute and let me explain.”
But she was past the point of listening to anything. Rising to her feet, she stumbled out of the room, desperate to find somewhere to regroup before anyone noticed anything was wrong.
But she didn’t get there quite fast enough.
She turned around to see their old Math teacher, Abolore Desalu, walk up to her.
“So sorry to yell your surname like that,” he smiled apologetically. “But after twenty years, that’s all this old man can remember.”
She made an attempt to smile, remembering he was supposed to support the school’s presentation, and also that she was the one responsible for settling him in, as well as the other speakers from the school. “It’s Bioye, Sir.”
“Please quit this ‘Sir’ business,” he laughed. “Even back then, you guys used to call me by my name, or am I lying?”
She laughed in spite of herself. He wasn’t.
“You look really lovely, Bioye. In fact, I’d say you’re glowing,” he said, the twinkle in his eyes visible behind his thin-rimmed spectacles. “Your husband is taking good care of you.”
She pursed her lips, in no mood for that line of discussion. “I’m not married.”
“Oh, okay,” he answered, not sounding as apologetic as he should have for someone who’d made such a goof. “Maybe we can catch up later, after the presentation? I hope I’m not too late for it,” he said, glancing into the packed restaurant. “I couldn’t get here as early as I wanted to, as I had a breakfast meeting this morning. There was also crazy traffic approaching Ikota.”
“No, we just got seated, and lunch hasn’t even been served. The school’s presentation isn’t for another thirty minutes.”
He nodded in acknowledgment, but his brows furrowed as his gaze intensified. “Are you okay?”
“Bioye!” Toju’s voice rang out, as he rushed up to where she and Abolore stood.
“So, Sir…sorry, Abolore,” she said to their former teacher, ignoring Toju. “I’ll take you to join Mrs. Avery and the others on their table.”
“Bioye, please!” Toju pleaded, his voice akin to a whimper. “Please, listen to me.”
Abolore glanced at Toju and then back at Bioye. “I’ll see myself in. I’m sure I can find them. Mrs. Avery would be hard to miss.” Then smiling at Toju. “Ereuwa, right?”
Toju nodded, in no mood for pleasantries. They remained standing there, as Abolore found his way into the restaurant.
“Why are you following me?” Bioye snarled.
“I’m not married to Stella,” he cried. “Yes, we were together for a long time, and yes, we have kids together, but that’s it.”
Hearing that he was indeed a father did nothing to make her feel better.
“So, when were you going to tell me this?” she demanded. “We’ve had more than enough time for you to have shared information as important as this. If Onome hadn’t mentioned it, would you even have?”
“I swear, I was going to tell you, Bioye,” he moaned, grabbing her hands. “I swear to God. I was just enjoying being with you again, I didn’t want to talk about anything else. But of course, I was going to tell you,” he reached for her hands. “Please, Bioye. I’ve waited for this, I’ve looked forward to being with you again, for so long. Let’s not end it before it even begins. I love you, and I don’t think its coincidence that we’ve been thrown back in each other’s company again, or that neither of us is married. The universe has brought us back together. Let’s not ruin it again.”
And with that, she softened.
“But that should have been the very first thing you told me,” she muttered, allowing him lead her back to the restaurant.
“And I promise, I will tell you all about them,” he gushed. “Better still, I’ll introduce you to them the next time they’re in Lagos.”
“Where do they stay? With her?”
He nodded. “They live with their mother in Calabar, but now that I’m here in Lagos, they’ll visit occasionally.”
And as they took their seats, she listened to him talk about his five-year old daughter, Misan, and three-year old son, Tofe, and how he had been in a long-term relationship with their mother, after which they had amicably agreed to part. Even though it was a taint in the perfect picture she had for them, she couldn’t fault him for having lived life while they were apart, especially as she too had done the same. Considering how long she and Bako had been together, she could also have had kids for him under different circumstances.
“Are we cool now, my one and only?” Toju asked, imploring eyes on her, as Henrietta Avery gave her speech.
Endeared by his eagerness, she smiled and nodded, prompting him to kiss her on her forehead. No, absolutely nothing could take away her joy.
Walking into the lobby the next morning, it felt like she was floating. Not only had the previous evening’s Prom gone better than anything she could have imagined, being reunited with Toju, the only man she had ever truly loved, was the perfect icing on an already perfect cake.
“I’ll join you, baby,” she said to him. “I need to sort out a few administrative things first.”
He kissed her and headed to join the others for breakfast. All through the head and room count reconciliation with the hotel’s General Manager, she was unable to wipe the smile off her face, blushing as she remembered how they had rediscovered each other’s bodies the night before, with even deeper passion than they had the night before that. It was the best of both worlds; the nerves and excitement that came with new love, but with the comfort, the ease, the familiarity that came with old love. And she was loving every minute of it.
Walking into the breakfast lounge, she spotted him deep in discussion with Nonso, and decided to check on the other people who had journeyed far and wide to make the weekend possible. Spotting Tomi, Zinna and Ogugua, she went to sit with them on their table.
“Hi, beautiful ladies!” she exclaimed, her eyes twinkling as she took the last seat at the table. “Thanks so much for making this weekend awesome. You were all amazing!”
Zinna turned to smile at her, an amused look on her face. “For someone who had just as much to drink as the rest of us, you’re quite sprightly this morning.”
Bioye giggled. “Let’s just say I’ve had an a.m.a.z.i.n.g weekend.”
“That good?” Zinna laughed. “Well, I’m happy for you guys.”
“A man that still hasn’t sorted out the woman who has two kids for him,” Ogugua scoffed, shaking her head. “That’s the one you’re losing your head over.”
Bioye felt like she’d just been slapped hard across the face. She turned to glare at Ogugua. “Hey, hey! Don’t you even try that with me! Don’t bring my way the anger and bitterness you’ve been trying to spread everywhere all weekend. Is it my fault things didn’t work out between you and Jachike? Was I the one who asked him to marry someone else?”
It was out of her mouth before she could even stop it. Whilst she, like everyone else, had noticed the tension between Ogugua and Jachike, and also how the former Head Girl had been tart and caustic that weekend, a far cry from how warm and friendly she’d been in school, the last thing she’d intended was to use it as a weapon. But her back had been pushed against the wall, and she’d been left with no choice.
Tomi gasped. “Bioye!”
“For your information, I know about Toju’s kids,” she continued, unable to stop, her raised voice beginning to attract attention. “He was seeing someone, and they had kids, big deal. So, because of that, he shouldn’t date anyone else now that he’s single? What exactly is your problem?”
From Ogugua’s glistened eyes and clenched jaw, it was clear her words had hit a very raw spot. Ogugua rose to leave, but Zinna held her by hand.
“Sit down and finish your food,” she retorted. “This is the last way we should be ending a good weekend.”
But even Bioye was no longer in the mood. “It’s fine. I was leaving anyway. I need to check on everyone else. Enjoy breakfast.”
Walking away from their table, she plastered a smile on her face as she made her rounds, thanking everyone for coming, and engaging in small talk. But she couldn’t get what Ogugua had said out of her head. What had she meant by Toju not having sorted out ‘the woman who has two kids for him’? Was there something he still wasn’t telling her?
“Let’s drive back together,” he said, hugging her from behind, as the place emptied. “I can’t think of any better way to return to real life, than with the woman with whom I will be spending the rest of it with.”
“Ogugua said something about you not yet sorting out the mother of your kids,” she said, turning around to look at him. “What did she mean? And how come she knows so much about your situation?”
The smile on his face waned and he pulled back. “Love bug, you can’t be listening to every and anything people whisper in your ear.”
“Ogugua isn’t the kind to gossip. If she made that statement, it’s because she knows something for sure.”
“I don’t know how she knows about Stella, Bioye,” he retorted, throwing his hands up. “Your guess is as good as mine. For all the time I was in Calabar, I never saw Ogugua for a single day, so I have no idea. As for not sorting Stella out, I rented for them a large house in Ekorinim, one of the best parts of town. The kids are in the best school and she gets a very generous monthly allowance, so short of giving her my blood to drink, I don’t know what else I’m expected to do.”
Deflated, Bioye realised she’d allowed herself get riled up for nothing. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she placed her head on his chest in a silent apology. They weren’t going to make it if she trusted gossip and conjecture over the words of the man she loved. There and then, she made up her mind not to allow anything she heard about her man’s baby mama affect her or their relationship. They were all going to find a way to co-exist.
A week later, as they got on the boat for Morin and Mofe’s tenth year wedding anniversary party, she was even deeper in love than she’d been the weekend before. After the reunion, she’d sent back her driver and followed Toju to town in his car…except she hadn’t even made it home. They’d gone straight to his apartment in Gbagada and had barely come up for the air ever since. She was the most sated, the happiest she’d ever been.
With Toju’s hand over her shoulder and hers around his waist, they had even more of a new-love glow than they’d had the weekend before. Spotting Tomi, Zinna and Ogugua, she waved, but unlike what she would have ordinarily done, she didn’t go over to say hello, partly because she was ashamed of her outburst with Ogugua, but also not to give any room for any more gossip. She didn’t know why Ogugua had chosen to tell her something so hurtful, but she did know she wasn’t going to put herself in the position to hear anymore from where it came from.
As the boat eventually set sail, she was happy in the company of her man, loving the fact she could kick back, relax and enjoy the party, without the stress of planning. A few times, she cast worried glances at Morin, who seemed to have permanently positioned herself at the bar, downing drink after drink, while her husband and co-celebrant, was in a heavily flirtatious conversation with the woman he had once been involved with. On another day, she might have intervened and either gone to keep Morin company or talk some sense into Mofe. But that evening, under the beautiful Lagos night sky, she was inclined to do neither. They’d had 10 years of love already, while she was only just getting started. Hopefully, they’d sort themselves out.
“I need to follow him,” Toju said to her, when Nonso broke away from the group to get a refill from the bar. He didn’t have to say more, as she knew he was trying to pitch a business idea to their old classmate.
“Sure,” she said. “Good luck.”
He kissed her, before walking after Nonso, who’d now been joined by Bonju. Ikenna had long since broken away and was talking to Tomi. She smiled as she watched them, wondering if she was the only one who had noticed something different about the long-time besties since the reunion weekend. Or maybe she was so loved up, she was seeing everyone through romanticised eyes.
“I’m happy for you guys,” came Ogonna’s voice. “You look so good together! Even better than when we were kids.”
Bioye’s sunny disposition immediately evaporated and she threw a caustic look her former friend’s way, prompting a throaty laughter from the latter.
“Na wa for you o! You still dey vex after all these years?” Ogonna remarked, in what also sounded like a taunt. “You no dey forget anything?”
Bioye hissed and walked away, not wanting to give her the benefit of dampening her mood any further. She had some nerve thinking she could walk up to her and pretend she hadn’t betrayed her not once, but twice.
“Hey, I was looking for you,” Toju said, when he found her where she was sitting.
“I had to leave that other place,” was all she offered in response, not wanting to let him know what…or whom…had prompted her relocation. “How did it go with Nonso?”
He shrugged. “He said he had a headache and didn’t want to discuss business. He suggested we meet up this week to talk.”
“That’s good, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been away from work for a week, and by the time I’m back tomorrow, I’m not sure I’ll be able to make out time. My hours are pretty rough.”
She nodded in acknowledgment, a reminder that their week of bliss was truly about to come to an end. After several years working with the BBC in London, she still hadn’t found work in Nigeria since relocating home. Toju’s return to work was the reminder she needed that, with the reunion over, she needed to find something useful to engage herself with.
“Maybe you can see him on Friday night, or next weekend or something,” she suggested. “Do you want me to speak to him for you?”
He shook his head. “No, you don’t have to. I’ll figure it out,” then reaching for her hand. “Food is being served in the banquet area. Everyone is moving over there now.”
Accepting his hand, she allowed him pull her up. “If you’re back at work tomorrow, that might be my cue to go back home. My dad is going to think I’m not serious at all, considering he’s the one pushing my CV harder than I am.”
“Nonsense, you’re not going anywhere,” he protested. “After losing you for so many years, I can be forgiven for wanting you all to myself. Don’t worry, just tell your Dad you’ve found a man willing to take care of you.”
“Young man, it doesn’t work like that!” she chuckled as they walked to the canopied area where the four-course meal was being served. Yes, even though it didn’t work like that, she was still tickled about the prospect of finally being able to introduce a man to her dad as ‘the one’. And not just some man she was settling for, but the man who had been her definition of perfection almost as long as she’d been alive.
She couldn’t wait.
“Are you sure you want me here while you’re gone?” Bioye asked, as she saw Toju off to the door the next morning.
“Baby, you have everything you need here. And if you need anything more, call me, okay?”
She smiled, quite enjoying still being treated like an egg. It wouldn’t take anything for her to just kick back the whole day, doing nothing but laze and watch TV, while waiting for her Prince Charming to return from work.
“You look so handsome,” she said, kissing him. In a fitted black suit, pink shirt, and blue pinstripe tie, he sure did. “You better let your thirsty female colleagues know you’re taken.”
“I won’t even pay them any mind, when all I’ll do all day is have this visual of you in my head,” he said, pulling her to him. Dressed in nothing but his t-shirt, his desire for her was reflected in his eyes. “You can best believe I’ll be home as early as I can manage it.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” she said, giving him a final kiss, before he left.
With the house quiet and empty, she sat in the living room and reached for the TV’s remote control. As she mindlessly flipped from channel to channel, she looked around the bland space, thinking up ways she’d make it more vibrant. It was a small apartment, and they’d have to move eventually, but in the short term, she’d make it work.
The doorbell rang an hour later, and a smile spread on her face. She knew he’d hurry back home, but not as quickly as an hour.
“Did you change your mind?” she was already asking, as she turned the key in the lock.
But when she opened the door, the surprise on her face was mirrored on the face of the woman who stood there.
“Who are you?” the woman asked. “Where is Toju?”
Bioye frowned, irritated by the audacity of the woman standing there, on a Monday morning, demanding for her man. But rather than spew the diatribe crying to rush out of her mouth, she took a deep breath instead. “Toju has gone to work. Can I take a message?”
“I’ll wait for him,” the woman said, wanting to push past Bioye.
But Bioye was having none of that.
“Excuse you,” she said, standing in the strange woman’s way. “Toju isn’t here. Please leave a message, and I’ll be sure he gets back to you.”
The woman glared at her. “They told me he was here with a woman. They also told me he was at home all of last week and didn’t go to work. That’s why I came here straight from the airport.”
“Are you Stella?” Bioye asked, realisation setting in.
“Oh, you know who I am,” Stella smiled. “So can I come in now?”
“Ummm,” Bioye answered, unsure how to handle the woman standing before her. “It might be better for you to come back later. He’s not due back home until evening.”
“Well, I have nowhere to go. I have no family in Lagos. This is where I stay when I’m here.”
That was when the first alarm of many bells started to ring.
“Is this about the kids?” she asked. “Are they okay?”
Stella’s brows furrowed in a deep frown and the clench of her jaw showed she was also trying to control her words. “Our kids are fine, thank you. I’m here to see him about a different matter.”
At this point, Bioye’s patience had run itself paper-thin. “Look, you have to come back, okay? I can’t let you in, I’m sorry.”
Stella shook her head and laughed, the most mirthless sound Bioye had ever heard. “No wahala. I’ll go and wait in one of the neighbour’s flats. In my condition, I can’t be standing here arguing with one of Toritseju’s babes.”
“Oh, I finally got your attention, abi?” she snapped, all laughter gone. “I’m pregnant. And ever since that good-for-nothing fool found out, he’s blocked my number. But tell him I’m ready for him this time. Tell him this time, it won’t be like before. Tell him that.”
As she stormed away, Bioye stood there, completely rooted to the spot, watching as all her dreams and fantasies from the past week…went up in a blazing inferno.
A Complicated Kind Of Love – out on Bambooks and Amazon on September 23, 2022