We never spoke again after that day, not for lack of trying on his part. He did call, many times, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak to him. I was still trying to understand what had happened and still too confused and angry to talk to him. I changed my number after a while. Then I heard from Eddie that he had travelled to the states for a master’s degree.
Over the years Eddie kept me updated, he told me that Michael was working somewhere in the states, and then later that he was thinking of coming back to Lagos. I always listened. Sometimes I would imagine what life was like for him. I missed him and I wondered if he thought of me at all.
Life went on though, I graduated, served, started Living Lagos and gave up on ever loving any other man the way I still loved Michael.
I had confided my feelings to Ada on one of the ‘Girl’s night in’ days at my apartment. Drunk on red wine, maudlin on romance movies and incensed by a picture of him I had seen on a friends Facebook page. I told her everything while she listened patiently.
“I think you overreacted.” She had said at last. “I’m not really sure about the ‘jambite rush’ thing and I don’t understand all your ‘vexing’ and not picking his calls. Why didn’t you at least talk to him?”
I had asked myself the same question over and over for years, so I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her. We went back to oohing and aahing over his picture and how handsome he looked. Before the day was over Ada made me promise that if I ever had a chance I would see him, talk to him and see how it went from there.
“You never know.” She said. “You might just take one look at him and wonder what you ever saw in him.”
Very unlikely, I thought.
Now here I was in my tiny bedroom, with no idea what to wear. I was in a panic. I didn’t want to be too dressy, and make him think I was trying too hard. But I didn’t want to dress down either. Half of my wardrobe was on the bed and I still hadn’t decided. I almost decided to give up and stay home.
My phone rang. It was Ada, of course.
“Have you left home yet?” She asked.
“No!” I replied dejectedly, collapsing unto the pile of clothes on the bed “I’m not going. I have nothing to wear!”
“Of course you do.” She cajoled. “You have lots of lovely clothes.”
“Well they’re all hiding somewhere.” I said petulantly. “Because I haven’t seen any of them.”
“You’re just panicking.” Ada said. “You’re afraid to go and see the man you know is the love of your life.” She continued. “Just relax.” She coaxed. “You’re beautiful, in fact you’re stunning, forget about him for a moment and just dress up for a fabulous night out.”
Easy for her to say, I thought.
At last, I decided to wear a simple black dress, a pair of nude colored shoes and a matching clutch. I wore simple gold accessories and pinned my hair up. My makeup was light, a little eye shadow, mascara and lipstick, and I was done.
The girl who stared back at me in the mirror was classy and elegant, with long black hair, and smooth fair skin. My almond shaped eyes, already large, were well framed by my long lashes and elegantly arched brows. My small nose was perfectly underlined by my full cupid’s bow lips. Combined with my slim figure and long legs, I knew I looked good, and I was glad of it.
It was a short drive to the MUSON center. When I arrived, the event had just started. I saw Ada, looking odd as usual in jeans and a T-shirt, taking pictures of people at the entrance. She saw me and gave me two thumbs up. I smiled, relaxing a bit.
As soon as I entered the full hall, my eyes started to scan the place for Michael. I didn’t see him. As I futilely searched the faces of the people across the numerous round table arranged in the big hall, I tried to ignore the pang of disappointment in my stomach. I gave up and went to search for my seat.
There was funny couple on my table, a husband and wife in their sixties, who adopted me as soon as I sat down and before long, had me laughing at their stories on how they met.
“He walked up to me and said he was going to marry me!” The lady told me, her light voice just able to reach me over the music the live band was playing. “And I told him to get in the back of the queue.”
“I told her I was starting a new queue.” Her husband said with a self-satisfied chuckle.
“Then I asked him what he had that my other beaus didn’t.” The lady said still smiling, “and do you know what he said?” She asked me.
I shook my head.
“He said marry me and you’ll find out!”
“She couldn’t resist that!” Her husband laughed. “She just had to know.”
It continued like that all evening and even helped to ease my tension a little. But I still couldn’t forget why I was there. Michael Ade-Cole was like a weight, an anchor holding my mind in one place so that no matter what I did, I couldn’t turn it away from him.
I had psyched myself to be cool when I finally saw him. But when I did see him, all that preparation went out of the window. Somehow as soon as he came into the hall, I knew. My eyes went to the entrance and there he was, still beautiful, like some sort of god. He looked taller than I remembered, dressed in a semi-casual traditional attire of a white brocade caftan and trousers. I watched him stride into the hall, following an usher to a table at the front. As he passed by my table I thought I saw him pause and almost turn around, but then he kept on walking, and joined his sister at their table in the front.
“Are you all right?” It was the old lady. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine.” I reassured her, smiling quickly.
She pursed her lips. “Why are you here alone anyway?” She asked, as if I had personally affronted her. “A beautiful girl like you should be here with one of her beaus. I always had someone to escort me when I was your age.”
“Times have changed.” Her husband quipped. “These days’ girls impress each other with their careers, not with the men on their arm.”
At one point Ada came up to me. “Babes, I saw him and he is hot!!!” She whispered in my ear. “How did you ever let that one get away?”
I shook her away and then stole a glance at him. He seemed to be enjoying himself, talking and laughing with the people at his table. Yes, he was handsome, more handsome than I remembered. I sighed. It even hurt to look at him.
The event drew towards the end. The last of the comedians and dancing troupes had concluded their acts and Michael’s sister gave her vote of thanks. Everyone was up and socializing. I got up. There was only one way to do this. If I was going to find out if my feelings for Michael would ever result in anything after all this time, then I was going to have to go to him.
He was standing towards the front of the room, talking with a slender woman who, as far as I could see, was being very receptive to whatever it was he was saying. Of course, I had known that he might bring a date, but the sight was much more disenchanting than the thought. I didn’t pause though, I walked towards him, my steps purposeful, inside I was a knot of nerves, but outside, I am sure I looked like the most confident girl in the room.
I was halfway to him before he raised his eyes.
And looked right into mine.
I paused, the sledgehammer effect of his gaze throwing my purposefulness out of the window.
He stopped talking and frowned. I smiled hesitantly.
Then he broke into a huge smile and hurried toward me.
“Sophia!” He exclaimed, wrapping me in a hug. “I can’t believe it”
I stood there, shocked and happy at the same time. It was beautiful to stand there in his arms, inhaling his cologne and the fresh scent of his clothes. It felt so good I wanted to stand there forever.
“I’ve been thinking of you all evening!” He exclaimed. “I don’t know why. But since I walked in here I have not been able to stop thinking about you.”
I smiled weakly and said the only thing I could think of. “Well, long time no see.” I said lamely.
“Yes!” He said emphatically. “Much too long.” He paused and looked me over admiringly. “You look great.” He said. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s a work thing.” I said. “For my magazine.”
“Ah!” He smiled. “Living Lagos.”
I nodded, of course he knew about it, Eddie would have told him.
He grinned widely. “Well, just look at my little Sophie! All grown up and running her own magazine.”
“I could say the same about you.” I replied. “Except that you’ve always been ‘all grown up’.”
He laughed. “So no one has tamed that your tongue of yours yet.” He said teasingly. “It’s good to see you though, five years is a very long time.”
“It is.” I agreed. The woman he had been talking with was still standing there. Waiting for him, I guessed. I looked towards her. “Aren’t you here with someone?” I asked.
“Many people.” He replied. “My sister, Cecilia, I’m sure you remember her, her husband, my cousins! That’s my cousin Julie I was just talking to. You can come meet her if you like.”
I almost let out a sigh of relief. He didn’t have a date after all.
As we walked toward his cousin he turned towards me. “So are you here alone or is there someone looking daggers at my back right now, ready to challenge me to a duel?”
“Oh no no!” I laughed. “I’m here alone, you’re safe.”
“Good” He laughed. “That’s good.”
“Really!” I exclaimed. “Why? I hope you don’t have any nefarious plans for me?”
He didn’t reply. “Here’s Julie.” He said, as we reached his cousin. He introduced us. After a few moments of small talk, he took my hand and led me away from his cousin. “We need to catch up.” He stated. “When can I see you again?”
“I’m free this weekend.” I said, my heart singing, this was going much better than I had hoped.
He nodded. “Where do you live?” He asked.
I told him.
“That’s not far.” He stated. “Let me take you home.” He offered.
I almost said yes before I remembered that I’d brought my car. “I brought my car.” I said regretfully, wishing I’d never bought it.
“Okay, well tomorrow is Saturday.” He said thoughtfully. “So we have all day.” He thought for a moment “You know what? Give me your keys. I’ll drive you home and get someone to bring your car to your house.” He smiled teasingly. “That way, at least I’ll get to know where you live, in case you plan to disappear after tonight.”
I happily agreed.
His sister came over to say hello. She was tall, like him, in fact, they looked so much alike, they could have been twins. She was obviously pregnant, and seemed to be one of those women who carried pregnancies with energy and ease. I had met her back when I and Michael were at school together. So we knew each other.
“You!” She started to chide me as soon as she saw me. “Why did you abandon my brother?” She asked mock seriously.
“I didn’t.” I protested weakly.
“Don’t mind her.” Michael said to her in a conspiratorial tone. “She broke my heart and she won’t even accept it.”
“I didn’t.” I exclaimed with a frown.
“Hmm.” Cecilia said. “Thank God he has found you. He’s been moping around the U.S for four years, so now maybe he will stop.” She smiled. “Hopefully you’ll be a good influence on him.”
“I hope so.” I laughed. “Though with this one, it might be too late.”
“He’s too corrupt already, isn’t he?” She laughed and turned to leave us, then stopped. “Folake just called.” She said to Michael, “She asked if she should still bother to come. But I told her it was too late and we had already finished.”
He was holding my hand and I thought I felt it tense a little, but that could have been my imagination “Okay.” He shrugged. “That’s fine.”
We soon left for my apartment, after I had shown him where my car was parked. He drove one of those new Range Rovers. It was very comfortable and luxurious. “Nice car.” I commented.
“I aim to please.” He said.
I thought he seemed a little preoccupied. What was he thinking about, and who was Folake? The person his sister had mentioned. Was she his girlfriend or fiancée, I didn’t want to think about it so I pushed it out of my mind.
“Don’t be so quiet.” He said after a while. “I spent the last five years missing your constant prattle.”
“Prattle!” I exclaimed incredulously. “I didn’t used to prattle.”
“Yes you did.” He said. “You could never stop talking, you had opinions on everything and you never hesitated to voice them.”
“Some people would call that opinionated.” I laughed.
“Well.” He said. “As Jesus himself once said,” He looked at me with a teasing smile. “You said it.”
We both burst out laughing.
He stopped at the parking lot of my apartment building and we remained in the car, just talking. I told him all about running ‘Living Lagos’, he seemed really impressed.
“I am impressed.” He said at last. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” I replied shyly.
“So aside from the magazine, what have you been up to?” He asked.
“Nothing much.” I said, “Just living.” And thinking about you, I added silently.
He laughed. “I used to have nightmares that when I saw you again you would be married with a kid or two and a jealous husband who would forbid you to talk to me.”
“Well I hope to have the kids and the hopefully not-so-jealous husband someday soon.” I said, with a small forced laugh.
He held my eyes for a while. What was he thinking? I wondered.
“I’m engaged.” He said suddenly.
I had been sitting there in the car with him, my whole body growing warm at his closeness. As soon as he spoke, it was like someone had poured icy water all over me. My stomach dropped and I looked away from him. Outside the car, the security lights were casting an orange glow all over the compound. I concentrated on that, so that I wouldn’t cry. I felt like a fool, I felt like I should have known, really. Why had I expected him to be single? He was young, handsome and virile, of course someone else had taken the opportunity I had thrown away.
I forced a smile. “Congratulations!” I exclaimed, turning back to him. “I am very happy for you.”
He looked at me for what seemed like a long time. He shifted his gaze outside the car “Thanks.” He said at last.
“She wasn’t there tonight?” I asked.
“No she was busy with work.”
“Oh!” I nodded. “Okay.” I opened the car door. “I guess I see you around then.” I said, trying to make it sound like I didn’t care, like he hadn’t just broken my heart a second time in one lifetime.
“I hope I’ll see you more than that.” He replied. Was I imagining the pleading note in his voice? “After five years.” He continued. “I don’t want you to disappear again.”
I nodded and he smiled.
“Goodnight.” I said.
“Goodnight.” He replied.
I watched him drive off. My heart felt very hollow. All my hopes now felt too foolish to even bear thinking about. It took all my strength even to walk up the stairs to my apartment.