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Friday afternoon elevator Holloway Grove Victoria Island
Tongue sucking and bottom lip biting, chests heaving with frantic breathing, moans and sighs exaggerated, expressed in ragged puffs. Jennifer Ovbiagele had a brief lapse in judgment and was currently enjoying the sweet punishment of her crime. Although she kissed Kabir, quickly he had taken control, and her lips were under his command. It felt so good not to think but feel her every sense heightened. All around the mirrored elevator Kabir’s image stared back at her; Jen watched him nibble her ear, kiss her neck and slide his hand up her thigh seeming to burn through her black trousers all the way down to warm skin. Kabir pushed her harder against the ridge and Jen saw her reaction to him. Watched as her pupils dilated, her nose flared, her back arched and her body shivered, fingers fluttered on his shoulder; she looked like a fiend, an addict to this drug. His hands bunched into fists in her hair and Jen stuck her tongue out to lick his scent into her, scent that she would kiss into his mouth and his skin would sweat out in turn, the circle of lust. Painfully hard nipples pushed against broad chest, and her nails dug into his neck, Jen was naked in both their minds. This was fervor, salacity, wantonness, craving, it was better than before. The forbidden fruit oh so sweeter the second time around, Kabir mumbled things Jen couldn’t hear because her heart was beating too loudly, and at the height of her delight Jen called the name her heart ached for
“What?” Kabir gasped
Jen uttered gibberish and pulled him back towards her
“That’s not my name Jen” Kabir stood his ground
“No need to get so sensitive” Jen replied annoyed
“Jennifer” he said so sadly walking away
“Why has the kissing stopped?” Jen tried to sound lighthearted
Kabir glanced at her from the end of the carriage and slid to the floor, Jen attempted to walk to him but he put his hand up
“Stay there; I can’t think when you’re close”
“This is silly” Jen tried not to roll her eyes. Kabir looked up sharply
“I am not a booty call”
“I never said that” Jen extended her arm
“Oh drag me into an elevator, kiss me, and then call me by someone else’s name please tell me what else it could be”
Kabir looked on for an explanation that he knew wasn’t coming but still Jen’s ashamed silence hurt
“You know after Halima and I separated I had rare moments of optimism where I believed I would kiss you again, and always I thought it would be out of pity or because you felt responsible for the breakup”
“But this Jen is a low blow”
“Using me to get your rocks off”
“Hey that’s enough” Jen said loudly
“I am sorry” Jen continued
Kabir stared at her marveled she would even think that would be enough
“This is what you wanted in Abuja” Jen gesticulated wildly, her pitch rising “You said you ‘melt at my touch’, doesn’t it feel good anymore”
“It does not feel RIGHT” Kabir slapped his knee
“I said I was sorry about calling you someone else”
“It is not about him, it is about you. YA ALLAH” Kabir shouted
“Stop screaming at me” Jen warned
“My problem is with you” Kabir pointed aggressively, lowering his tone
Jen sniffed once and laid her palms flat against her face, this had all gone very badly.
“I was dealing with it all, I had made my peace with losing you and I was MOVING ON” Kabir’s voice uncontrollably rose again
“I am so sorry” Jennifer whispered from behind her fingers
“When did you become this person?” Kabir was gaining momentum “you are cold and conniving and …”
Jen’s head jerked up “You started this! From the beginning it has been lies and games on your part. ”
Kabir looked on in awe “So we’re back to poor unfortunate Jen that bad things always seem befall”
“Don’t you dare belittle what you put me through” Jennifer’s voice shook
“You have never been honest with me” Kabir retaliated
“That is not true…”
“I can never tell what mood you’re in; how you will act towards me…it is always a guessing game with you”
“I can’t deal with this” Jen turned her back to him but still his reflection haunted her
“No!” Kabir stood up “For the first time since we met, you will drop that pretentious attitude and give me a straight answer” Jen ignored him
“Do you want to be in a relationship with me?”
“No” Jen whispered
Kabir reeled from her sudden response, “Maybe you need some time to think it through” he tried to salvage his argument
“I just gave you my answer”
“You are indecisive Jen, always have been”
“I mean it this time” Jen turned around
“Then what is this?” Kabir grasped her wrist, waiting for the pulse jump that would surely come
“It does not mean anything” Jen yanked her hand back
“I am no longer your star asshole. I have changed and am willing to make more adjustments” Kabir masked the plea in his voice
“I am not the one you’re looking for” Jen looked into his eyes willing him to see the truth in hers
“So I am only good for one thing” Kabir walked away and slid down to his former position, he stared at the elevator numbers; all floors were lit up furiously. The STOP button had been engaged for too long
Jennifer’s lips were moving but Kabir drowned her out by crowding his head with architectural babble; bronze brake shoes were clamped down along vertical rails in the shaft and mechanical relays were being passed across. Kabir glanced over, Jen was still speaking, he did not need to tune in to know her words were sweetened, candy flossed words of apology. Finally he could take no more and rising quickly disengaged the STOP signal. The panel doors slid open laterally and he walked out.
13.00pm Monday morning Holloway Grove Victoria Island.
Esosa Oyakilhome marched into the lobby squinting against the glare of the glass sculpture as it shone out its rainbow colors across the marble floor, Sandra gave a hearty wave from her desk and for a brief moment Esosa imagined a combination of she and Imade would make for enthusiastic company, then he thought he better not mention this in front of Jen or risk awaking her inner Cupid.
“One day I’ll buy you sunglasses before that thing blinds you” Esosa said as Sandra handed him a visitor card to swipe at the elevator
“I have gist for you” Sandra said putting down her True Love and leaning on her desk, she saw the haste in his face then concluded “I’ll tell you later”
Esosa rode the lift to the fifth floor and strode purposefully towards Jen’s desk. Surprisingly she didn’t turn around as she usually did when he came in, so preoccupied with her work that she never realized he was here till he touched her shoulder. As soon as she turned around Esosa saw something was wrong, Jen was easy to read. She hugged him till he heard a distinctive crack in his chest and proceeded to hug him some more
“I missed you too but I can’t breathe” he suffocated to say
Jen released him and placed a hand on his face staring at him for a long time. Esosa saw the nervous shift of her co-workers and the gossip gleam in one in particular and decided it best they continue this reunion outside
“Have you had lunch?” not letting on he knew something bothered her. Jen shook her head and with that he grabbed her hand and led her to the stairwell.
“What do you want to eat?”
“I am not hungry” Jen said simultaneously
“It’s so good to see your face again” Esosa said “How have you been keeping?”
“I’m not good when you’re away” Jen picked at invisible lint on her check skirt, proceeded to pull down her sleeves then re-did her collar.
Esosa looked on not saying a word; he just held her hand letting her know he was here. This wasn’t the homecoming he envisioned; he hated to think what could be troubling her.
Jen faced him squarely, then her stare wavered, but she forced her neck upright. What was she forcing herself to be brave about?
“I am scared you will leave me”
“No” the sincere simplicity in his answer must have reassured her
“I was stupid when you left and I need you to know that I never want to hurt you be-because you-u make me feel. I-I mean w-w-with” her stammering got worse and she could barely make out words
Esosa saw what Jen was trying to tell him and for once in his life, didn’t want to know the truth. Esosa could not take what was coming out from her mouth; it felt like his forehead was being drilled in one side and his eyes burned. All his muscles contracted and his fingers dug into his palm from the tight fist it formed. Every joint ached and he felt if he did not sit down his balance would fail. Jen touched his forearm and at that spot he felt insulted, he told his feet to step away just as she entwined her fingers with his. His body did what it always did when Jen was near and it relaxed, Esosa looked at her bottom lip wobbling and saw the tears forming at the back of her eyes and knew he didn’t care for the completion of her confession. He forgave her, he had to, he needed her. Only around her did his world calm down. He was never afraid around Jen, did not have to pretend to have his affairs in order, emotions under control, he could make mistakes, stutter, she would smile and fix everything. How could he walk away?
“Is it over?”
Jen was still stumbling about the argument that followed; she hoped to finally explain Kabir’s existence in this part.
“Yes. I was just going to say…”
“Do you like me?” It was a difficult question to ask and Esosa felt the shame of it, unconsciously he pressed down on Jen’s hand in his palm
“I more than like you” Jen answered. Was it possible? Would he still have her?
“Then it doesn’t matter” he concluded. Jen’s cowardly conscience did a dance; she didn’t have to go through with it. They could start afresh
Esosa nodded at her and when Jen smiled brightly in response he thought to himself “that’s what put me in trouble in the first place”
“Always do that” he said aloud staring at her smile. Jen raised her lips to his and Esosa met them gently, like it was the first time. It was a light brush of his mouth on hers and then he dragged her close, squeezing tightly
“Jennifer Ovbiagele, will you be my girlfriend?”
Jen giggled at his neck as his arms gripped her like a vice, she felt so safe
“That’s not good enough” he tickled her
“Yes” Jen screamed dying of laughter “Absolutely”
The following fortnights were the best days of Jennifer’s life. She was dating Esosa and it was what she dreamed it to be. She sang to every song, ate heartedly, glowed, laughed till her sides ached but most importantly she cherished his vulnerable moments. For they were still few and far between, he spoke more about his step mother and sisters, father and Ghana, his boss and his pastor. Jen had been to his house in Surulere thrice more and on each occasion she and Osaze played their courtesy game, all smiles in the living room but his gloves came off when they were alone. She didn’t mind, it was Osaze. Jen had spare keys to Esosa’s car and occasionally forgot to fill up the tank, had prepared his favorite dish on more than one occasion in both his kitchen and hers, met everyone in his office including Mr. Adebayo and had a pending invitation to his church. She was a girlfriend. Jen was enjoying the honeymoon period but also looking forward to the arguments and quarrels in the long run that would make them a stronger couple. Esosa wasn’t going anywhere and neither was she. It was easy. Jen could speak to him about anything and he was rapidly becoming her best friend.
It was a morning blessed with good thoughts that she met Jummai Dansabe and all was changed.
Jen ran in from the rain, rapidly getting soaked from the short distance of the taxi to Esosa’s office. He teased her that her body attracted water, though he never seemed to complain when she was wet Jen thought ruefully. The office was deserted, expected on a Saturday for everyone except her workaholic boyfriend.
“Playtime’s over” she called from the door
Esosa looked up from his desktop and smiled at her wet pink jersey dress as it dripped water to her wedges.
“Did you swim here?”
“Had to make room for your relatives on the boat, they want to make it to England before nightfall”
Esosa laughed his loud laugh good naturedly and opened his arms, Jen ran into them and soon his body heat was warming her up.
“What you working on?”
“Dansabe Textiles” he replied handing her the gross figures for last quarter
Jennifer’s body went cold as it always did when she heard that name, a feeling her conscience told her to expect for many years to come.
“Jen didn’t you hear me?” Esosa asked, loosening his hold so he could look down at her face
“No sorry” Jen apologized
“I asked if you thought spending 25% extra annually on insecticide is worth the profit generated with large scale irrigation”
“You’re the genius” she teased
“Jen” Esosa said seriously
“Ok. Just this one, then we are going out for meat pie like you promised.” Jen waited for Esosa to agree as he would never go back on his word. “How much do you currently spend on fertilizer?” she asked searching for a calculator, he must have one somewhere…
“Esosa do we pay you to enlist outside help?” a voice from the doorway; musical, soft and with a Hausa lilt
Jen and Esosa look up, nearly bumping heads; Jummai strolled in magically converting the linoleum floor into a walkway. The family resemblance was undeniable; the hair, the nose and the diamonds gleaming from her ears, wrists and neck screamed royalty. Jen felt her happiness fade.
Esosa greeted Jummai and introduced his girlfriend, before he could utter her name Jen stood up and shook hands with the devil. Proceeding to report what excellent progress was being made on the account. Jummai made herself at home, adjusting the batwing style sleeves of her turquoise silk-chiffon kaftan dress. Her Philippe Audibert diamond bracelet clinked as she traced her fingers along the multi-colored beaded trim at the neck of her dress. Jen could not stop staring, how did someone stand being so beautiful? The grace in her movements distinguished her upbringing from others and even with the rain outside she was dry as a bone, right down to her Stella McCartney sandals. Jummai was a walking couture magazine and Jen sank lower and tried to become invisible. Jen gave Esosa a look that screamed “you didn’t say she would be coming” and he responded with a brow lift that implied it was her company and she did whatever she damn well pleased. Esosa stood to retrieve more paper work from his boss’s office, leaving the two women alone.
“I like your shoes” Jen said, when at loss always compliment
“Interesting outfit” Jummai replied placing her Anya Hindmarch metallic bag on the table
“That’s a strange compliment” Jen replied smiling awkwardly
“It wasn’t a compliment” Jummai responded
Jen’s eyes narrowed, she mumbled a word under her breath
“What?” Esosa asked behind her
“GLITCH” Jennifer said louder pretending to fiddle with her blackberry, she and Jummai knew she said something else
Jen busied herself at Imade’s desk on the internet while Esosa discussed progress and planned future meetings, Jen wondered how long she could hold out before subtly hinting that he never take another job from that family again. Jummai’s arm lingered on the same page with Esosa’s far longer than was necessary and Jen grit her teeth. She never asked if it went further than business in Abuja, a show of faith for his forgiveness about what happened with Kabir. It was in the past, for now they had each other. Needless to say a substantial amount of “glitches” escaped her lips and she furiously typed out her anger on Word, which is probably why she did not hear her name the first time, her ears tuned in when she heard Esosa proudly declare to Jummai that she was Junior Auditor at Holloway Grove.
Jummai froze, and asked for her last name, Esosa gave it. Jen watched all this happen in slow motion, frozen to her seat.
Jummai spun her head 360 degrees then and stared at Jennifer. Her eyes took in the cheap harlot that ruined her sister’s happiness; the poorly attired, crude, damp mess that Kabir chose over Halima. Jummai rose to her feet pointing in disbelief. Was this it? Her sister cried over this? The girl could see it, and she knew she had been discovered.
“Shegiya” she screamed at her
The girl remained seated as if transfixed by what was going on
“You are the lowest of the low, a bottom feeder” Jummai spoke. The girl did not respond
“Jummai! What is the reason for this” Esosa stood and walked to her, he was upset.
Jummai glanced at him “I never want to see her again” she spoke in her authoritative tone
“You have solicited my PROFESSIONAL loyalty only” Esosa responded in his
“It was a misunderstanding” Jen whispered “I did not know…”
“Jennifer what is going on?” Esosa was confused
“Remember my sister that wouldn’t speak?” Jummai spoke to Esosa “This little wench had been sleeping with her fiancé” she spat the words out
“If you worked for me I would have you fired and thrown back into the hole you crawled out of” Jummai snarled
Esosa said something about there being a mistake and Jummai should take note to mind her language when speaking to his girlfriend. Jen’s head was boiling, she owed Halima an explanation not this uptight matron plus she got the facts wrong.
“Speak to me in that manner one more time” Jen warned praying the posh prat would take the bait, any excuse to scratch that uppity aristocratic bull out of her eyes.
“Ai ba ki san ne ba” Jummai clicked her tongue “you do not know me at all”
“Jennifer did not do that” Esosa felt tensions rising
“Jennifer will DO anything” Jummai clipped the words
Jen leapt towards her the same time Esosa clamped down on her shoulders, restraining her attack “I think you should leave now” Esosa said sternly. Jummai delayed so Esosa repeated “it wasn’t a request”
“Sai ke zama Kishia ne?” Jummai gave a pitiful laugh
Jen knew kishia was used to refer to the second wife, as it came from the root word ‘kishi’ meaning ‘envy’. “I do not intend to marry Kabir” she stated for clarity
“Duk abubuwa da yay faruwa” Jummai stared down at her before realizing she was speaking in Hausa “after everything that’s happened… ” she began again then couldn’t be bothered to finish her sentence
Jummai made a graceful exit spewing a couple more choice words in Jen’s direction
“Insha Allah, for your sake I never see you again. Kinajina?” before climbing into her waiting BMW.
Esosa stood back from Jennifer and waited till she stopped glaring out the window at the departing car
“Is it true?”
“It was a long time ago Esosa, before I met you. It’s over” Jennifer stood to be near him
“You must think I’m a fool” Esosa said bitterly
“What?” Jen looked confused
“Kabir!” Esosa exclaimed. “It is always Kabir, it will always be Kabir”
“Esosa please don’t say that” Jen pleaded
“In Abuja by the pool and even after it was obvious we would get together you made out with him in the elevator”
“You said we could start over and move past that” Jennifer saw her whole life crash before her. This can’t be going this way…
“When I thought you were acting out your insecurities and projecting your need to create drama onto a random stranger” Esosa started shaking “he was nameless, faceless…but now I see it”
“Esosa please, it wasn’t like that”
“You loved him”
“No…” Jen lied to preserve her relationship
“I was there Jennifer. When you would sit staring into space, when you weren’t eating, I was on a desk next to yours when you were breaking it off with Kabir. You had a relationship with a husband”
“I didn’t know he was engaged” Jennifer was choking now, how could a mistake she made months ago before she even met Esosa, ruin her relationship with him
“I feel like I don’t even know you” Esosa sneered at her like she had morphed into something else
“I made a mistake, I’ve paid for it. Please don’t judge me; I have given myself a hard enough time”
“You made the mistake again, when you knew the cards on the table yet you kissed him”
The tone in Esosa’s voice was so angry, Jen started sobbing
“You never really forgave me, did you?” Jen questioned and Esosa looked at her with such malice
“You spoke about being with a Dansabe and I freaked out I thought she would seduce you away from me, so I-I went to Kabir so he could make me feel better a-about mys-self”
“You kissed him, and then you kissed me.” Esosa was full of spite and such intense dislike he wanted to grab Jen and shake her till her teeth fell out. And then he didn’t want to touch her, it wasn’t the same person he cuddled 40mins ago
“You can’t play around with feelings like that. People have emotions, but you don’t care Jen”
“No no I do care” Jen tried to reach out, Esosa jumped back like she was a leper
“Nobody can ever make you happy”
“You make me happy, Esosa please don’t do this”
“You knew I would want to know and chose not to tell me”
“It is history now” Jen’s eyes begged him to understand her need to put it all behind her
“You knew I would need to know. Did you think I would never find out? I work for the in-laws now for heaven sake. Yet you said nothing, left me looking like a fool”
“I thought you wouldn’t give me a chance if you knew”
“You were right. Show yourself out” Esosa returned to his desk
“What?” Jen hiccupped
“I won’t say it again as politely” Esosa spoke with steel, his right fist gripped his pencil so hard it was on the verge of snapping in two. Jen opened her mouth to speak but saw the disgust in Esosa’s eyes as he looked at her. She never felt so dirty, so unworthy. Jen walked to the exit, she turned with her hand on the handle, Esosa was already working and she walked out into the rain. Jen walked till she felt numb and then she hailed a taxi, when she got home she handed him soggy naira notes. Jen ran into her bathroom to cry her heart out over a man, for the second time that year.
The next couple of weeks were a blur of secret cries in the bathroom and over application of waterproof mascara. Jen felt physically sick and so mentally drained that work could not console her, because work reminded her of Esosa. There were no secret calls during the day, no texts, and no hugs. She thought of all the times she took those arms for granted, assuming they would always be there. She needed to confide in someone but she could not disclose all information without involving Kabir. He seemed to be hunting her from far away, having the last laugh, making her unhappy when all she searched for contentedness. She tried to speak with her mom, capitalizing on the numerous times she asked of Esosa but Jen could not say why he never picked up her phone calls, or replied her emails, because she was ashamed that he had every right to be repulsed by her. So to everyone’s knowledge, they were going through a rough patch. Meanwhile the side-effects were manifesting, Jen was losing weight, fatigued, and her complexion was pale and ashy. After fielding off questions of ill health she had taken to lying she had a terrible bout of malaria, the fact that everyone easily believed her was a testament to how bad a state she was in. There was no one she could turn to that would understand the guilt that came with cheating and the humiliation that she ruined a good thing single handedly, even when she had a chance to make things right she buried her head in the sand. Believing it could just go away and she could pretend it never happened, move on with living and loving, but now it seemed that Jen would always define herself by these parameters-a liar and a cheat- because she really believed in her heart that she would do no better than Esosa. Who else would put up with her? Understand her almost telepathically? Who else would make being together so easy?
No one had been through what she went through, no one could tell her it gets easier or how much harder to beg, when to know to stop begging and let go. No one
“I hear the Architects are setting up in the Hilton” Mariya spoke on the phone
Jen’s head jerked up, she barely noticed when Mariya was offered an account to spearhead, that must be what made her listen. But it wasn’t…there was someone who would understand. It was a case of swallowing her pride and asking for an ear to confide in, she had no one else. Mariya finished her conversation and turned to her computer just as Jen pushed back from her desk, roughly announcing she would be taking her overdue lunch accidentally knocking over a row of red and black HB pencils in her haste which Mariya intercepted before they hit the floor; she ignored Jen and carried on working, minding her business as usual.
4.00pm Wednesday eight floor Holloway Grove.
Jen walked towards Kabir’s desk, giving a forced smile and a wave to the lady in the polka dot dress, whose name she still didn’t know. Jen waited behind Kabir’s head nervously, and finally reached out and tapped his shoulder
“How are you?” she almost pulled that off, her voice didn’t sound ragged from crying
“I hear you have malaria” Kabir responded semi-friendly “or you’re pregnant”
“What? I am not pregnant. Where did you hear that?”
“Downstairs. Apparently you run to the bathroom often during the day, people say its morning sickness”
Jen sighed, she was tired.
“I know you’re not pregnant” Kabir said “and I also know you don’t have malaria”
Jen decided this was a bad idea and thanked Kabir for his time, as she walked to the elevator he came beside her silently “you wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t important”
“I just need someone to talk to” Jen whispered
10minutes later in the cafeteria Jen sucked on a Ribena while Kabir studied her features like a doctor of tropical diseases. He used his thumb and forefinger to create a circumference around her skinny wrist and stared at her jutting clavicle, sunken cheekbones and limp hair.
“It’s not good Jen” he said delivering his prognosis
“I have a mirror” was her answer
“Great positive attitude” he congratulated her
“What can I say to improve morale?” Kabir asked
“Tell me how to get Esosa back” Kabir nearly laughed till he saw Jen was serious
“I can’t do that”
“Why not?” Jen’s voice rose causing her to choke on her drink. She coughed causing red liquid to splatter on the table and Kabir saw that unless Jen took better care of herself soon she would be coughing up blood not juice. He handed her his handkerchief and used a serviette to mop up the spill
“Why not?” Jen repeated “you could come with me and explain to him that it happened just once and its over”
“Because it was so horrible?” Kabir said with acid
Jen said nothing
“Esosa would bash my face in”
“That is the first time you’ve called his name” Jen smiled
Kabir rolled his eyes, “Jen you need to stop this”
“I want to. Tell me how”
“Accept that you’ve punished yourself enough. The longer you mourn does not necessarily equate the importance of the relationship”
Jen shook her head, “you mourned Halima and I mourned you”
“But all that was positive energy. It made me re-think my priorities and it made you a better auditor.” Kabir took Jen’s hand “this right now is self-destructive, it’s affecting your work, your friendships and your health”
Jen started to sob quietly, she cried so often she no longer knew how to control the tears.
“Deep down you never forgave yourself for what happened, but you need to understand that the chain of events have run their course” Kabir looked at her till she raised her head and pointed at himself “some of us are better people for it”
“I hurt Esosa”
“You need to respect his decision”
“Did you respect Halima’s?”
“I didn’t have a chance to contest, she skipped town on me” Jen laughed
“Because I loved her I gave her what she needed to move on and learnt from my mistake”
“Do you still love her?”
“I think I always will in some way but for now I have a little crush on you”
“Kabir…” Jen started…
“I know. Just let it run its course” Kabir replied a little sadly patting her hand
Jen shifted uncomfortably in her seat
“This isn’t easy for me Jen” Kabir confessed “but I am going to try to be there for you. Like you were for me”
“Ok” Jen smiled
“Just don’t try to kiss me again” Kabir warned
“Scouts honor” she laughed, up till then her throat had forgotten the sound
As Jen goaded herself into ordering boiled plantain from the lunch lady, she turned to Kabir “I will always be attracted to you”
He rose his gaze from the serving trays and met hers
“It’s because you’re gorgeous. No deeper meaning other than that. Even now, I’m thinking you should always leave your hair this way, and if your lips got any pinker you’d be modeling lipstick”
Kabir leaned on the serving tray and laughed, he laughed for a full minute, his body doubled over from the force of it. After gathering his composure he placed a hand on her bony shoulder “that is the Jennifer I know and love. Welcome back”
“You just like the compliments”
“I never denied that” he chuckled
Returning to her office to pack up her things, Jen sat down to compose a goodbye email to Esosa, she apologized once more, said she was through punishing herself but respected his decision if he couldn’t get past what occurred between her and Kabir and wished him the best, she shed her last tear and closed that chapter.
The next day Jen fully utilized the mirror she boasted about before getting dressed for work, she bought enough fruits to start a Caribbean Island and two bottles of Ragolis spring water, promising to devour it all before lunch. She stopped to chat with Musa and told him she was feeling better, admired the glass sculpture in the lobby and bid Shaw good morning. By midday it was clear Jen was back and everyone flocked to her table to chat, she visited the HR ladies “Una dey say I get belle abi?” she laughed with Temi and Tolu, lifting up her shirt so they could count her ribs, as they piled her with sweets and miniature Mars bars, Sandra bore no malice and filled her in on the debut of her play, she and Kabir tried to rebuild a friendship. Things were slowly normalizing. Most importantly, her heart stopped skipping when she heard Dansabe.
6.00pm Saturday evening Off Fatai Arobieke Street Lekki Phase I.
Accountant Olusola Adebayo strode out of his brownstone exquisite detached duplex. There was to be a meeting in the Flamingo restaurant and he knew if he got there late, he’d have to buy the first round of drinks. Everyone goes heavy on their first drink; he was no fool. He walked towards his Range Rover Sport 5.0 V8 and in the fading light of dusk, admired the gleam of the chrome exhaust. Once he got in Adebayo followed protocol and stroked the contrast stitching on the cream leather seats. He loved this car; if it turned into a person he would leave his three daughters and wife of 13years for it. They all knew not to touch Daddy’s car, the wife could get him to run any errand if she suggested driving the car herself. Nobody touches his baby and he told anyone who would listen how much she cost, he earned every dime of the £62,000 he lavished on her, more if you count the trimmings he included. Adebayo was not born into abject poverty but his family struggled to get by when he was younger, and the presence of Jam or Peak milk heavily depended on what fares his dad, a long haul truck driver brought home. Adebayo was always obsessed with money, and told anyone of the boys in his family’s cramped apartment building that he would succeed. Everyone dubbed him accountant and from then the profession was born; the only one who laughed at him was Bisi, the young, voluptuous server at the Mama Put next to the local tax collectors’ office where he had his first job. She would hiss and sneer at his big dreams as he boasted over Gulder with his workmates; she laughed at his monkey suits and made fun of his English. Naturally he fell in love with her, and still equates courting her to being the hardest, most exhausting negotiation he has ever been involved in. It still makes her blush; as he pulled out of the driveway she rushed to his side
“Boo” she frightened him, knowing he scared easy
“Bisi I’ve warned you about this your behaviour. What if I crashed the car?”
She shrugged at his remarks; his tone never worried her, right from the first day they met
“What time will you and your girlfriend be coming back?” she nodded to his car
“I want ice cream from Elmo’s” she pouted the way she did whenever she wanted her way
“Of course” he replied, hasty to get a move on
His wife thought about stalling in order to get what she wanted. She knew he was in a hurry and this made him very malleable. He would agree to anything so he could be on his way. She watched him stare at the speedometer and frown, she giggled and decided to let her big baby go for now.
“Oya drive safely” she pulled his nose
“Eh before you go, what flavour do you want?”
“Ah ah my favourite now” and she skipped back to the house, knowing he would forget and have to call their eldest to remind him.
Adebayo drove away and thought about how he always made well on his promises, even if it took forever and a day. An example would be his assistant Esosa, he was a hard worker and had the leadership skills, it was time he was given a role with more responsibility. It did not matter the bonuses he was paid, his title still read “Junior Account Manager”. The only problem was Adebayo was spoilt, and had gotten used to having his work done for him. He could decide not to show up to work for a week and not have to worry about mismanagement. It was time to make things right. Adebayo stopped at a red light and remembered the first big account Esosa closed, he had promised Esosa that if he kept it up he would be manager in a year. Well, it had been considerably longer than that and Adebayo was surprised Esosa didn’t hit him or quit, but he was loyal to the company, another commendable quality. Adebayo took the express and decided to branch at Elmo’s first, and tip the head waiter in Flamingo to store the ice cream in their freezer, that way he won’t have to double back on his way home. At the store, his daughter teased over the phone and reminded him the flavour was strawberry, promising to keep mute about it if she got one as well, he agreed to the bribe and at the last minute decided to get some for his two youngest as well. Women! They learn to sulk from a young age.
Adebayo could not know as he turned his car out of Adeslo Odeku Street, he would be rammed in from the left side by a long haul timber truck driver asleep at the wheel. The force would send the Range Rover speeding forward till it smashed into a light pole propelling the ice cream in the backseat onto the headrest, smearing the windscreen. Before Adebayo lost consciousness he saw his wife’s pout and slid quietly into blackness.
5.00am Sunday morning Esosa Oyakilhome dialled the only digits his numb fingers could, for minutes after the ring is answered he would breathe heavily on the line, trying to find the words, finally
“Mr. Adebayo died this evening”
“I’m so sorry” Jennifer responded
“Please stay on the line”
10.00am Monday morning Ebony Funeral Services 7 Igbosere road Lagos.
Jennifer scouted the sea of black in the room for Esosa and saw him hovering over the stout Mrs. Adebayo as she sat staring into space clutching her three year old. He placed a gentle arm on her back and whispered in her ear, she turned to face him, the only person she had made eye contact with all morning. She angled her face to show her watery smile and buried her head in the neck of her baby, sobbing silently. Kabir stood in a huddle of his colleagues, they had all built a home for the deceased and they dragged up fond memories and outrageous demands he made during the sketch phases. Toasting to his good name, and saying a prayer for his spirit. Mrs. Shaw looked around lost, trying in vain to put up a brave face, she was very close to Adebayo and over the years they had thrown each other business, her husband held her hand tight. Imade, Sandra, Meg and all others were sitting on plastic chairs outside, as the caterers served food under dusty party tents, in colours too bright for this solemn occasion. The music was loud and distant relatives celebrated his life and mourned his memory in equal measure with outbursts of tears and dancing. Although he died young, he achieved greatness they recited over and over again. It was a mellow affair, and Jennifer felt angry at herself for ever thinking horrible thoughts towards this man, seeing blown up pictures of his portraits adorned with plastic flowers hung on every wall. Jen did not like funerals and had been fortunate to have been to very few that held emotional value, but she came today because Esosa asked her to, because in between bouts of sobbing she could not refuse him. So now she hung back and watched him make the rounds, a little girl squealed as Esosa threw her in the air, she had spent countless after school hours in the office and the two had developed a rapport. “Funky baby” he teased, “My name is Funke” she replied adamantly with her hands akimbo, he lifted her in the air again and on it went. Jennifer strolled to Kabir’s elbow, he stepped back to allow her into the fold, Jen thought of how accepting his friends had been of her recent friendship with him, giving how much they all adored Halima. Guys have shorter memories than girls, Femi and the rest nodded in her direction and she smiled back. Esosa came to her “Can I borrow you?”
“How are you holding up?” Jen stroked his forearm
“Well. Thank you for coming, I know you hate funerals”
“I didn’t say that”
Esosa gave her a look and for a moment they were together again.
“I want to apologise for my cold front these past weeks. I was just blowing off steam, you know that right?”
“Well it’s all in the past” Jen responded waving it off
“Is it?” Esosa asked. Jen went silent
“Is this the time or place?” Jen hardened her tone
“But I don’t want you thinking I called because I wanted a date to the wake keeping” Esosa angled her so she would see he was being sincere.
“It doesn’t matter either way” Jen answered people watching
“Jennifer don’t shut me down. I sent you an email on Saturday, midday when I knew you would be busy, too busy to reply right away. I didn’t know what your reply would be and I wanted to stall it”
“A very big one. Please just check the timeline, you’ll see”
“I’ll do that when I get home”
Esosa stared at her “You didn’t receive it and yet you picked up my call at 5 in the morning. After the way I left things with you”
“You needed me” Jen answered like he was stupid if he did not know by now that she would always come running. Always. Esosa stroked her hair from root to tip in one slow motion, that gesture spoke millions. He held her hand in his car on the drive back to her house, squeezing tight.
A month later Esosa was promoted to Senior Management, the promotion coupled with the glowing recommendations garnered from previous assignments fast tracked him to a position that required his expertise.
“Dubai?” Jen couldn’t believe her ears
“Yes I know” Esosa replied solemnly
“Why you?” Jen hadn’t blinked in 20seconds
“Because I have the most experience with the Etisalat Easy Starter Pack and four months ago I found a way to save them money”
“But that means you’ll be in Dubai” Jen repeated
“I know” Esosa sighed “look we don’t have to discuss it now, it’s Date Night” he poured more wine into her glass
“There’s nothing to discuss” Jen stated “You’re going”
“What? I don’t want to go” Esosa said convincingly
“It’s an amazing opportunity Esosa. You will be doing what you love and implementing changes at the start. Your name will be on the credits, achievement for your work” Jen was serious
“I can’t leave you. I won’t” Esosa said with finality
“It’s bigger than me” Jen spoke quietly
Jen held his hand, stroked the calluses “you are allowed to bring your family, four dependents, it is the condition of your contract”
Esosa pulled his arm away and pushed his chair back
“Your mom, Osaze, your two younger sisters” Jen’s voice imprinted the image
“Why are you doing this?” Esosa asked painfully “you want me to go?”
“How can you even say that...?” Jen held back tears “I want you to succeed and take care of your family the way you dreamed. I couldn’t live with myself if I held you back”
Esosa looked at Jen like she was poisoning him, why was she saying this?
“It is your destiny”
“Come with me” Esosa begged
“You know I can’t do that” Jen answered softly
Esosa knelt by her side and kissed her, like it was the last time. Although he had three weeks left to pack up his life into labelled cardboard boxes, three weeks to put up his house and car for sale; he kissed her hard and soft, sweet and slow. On that night, with the starry sky above them, Esosa made love to Jennifer in his bed etching her scent into his memory, caressing her curves into his conscious, massaging her into make belief and when they were spent he held her in his arms so tight she bruised the next day. In the light of morning as the sun peeked through the gaps in his wooden shutters Esosa sat up and stared at the girl that was letting him go. He traced the hollow in the small of her back where he loved to rest his hand when they slow danced. He traced the dimples at the base of her shoulder blades where he planted his thumbs whenever he lifted her into his arms. He traced the back of her knees remembering how they could wrap around him and grip...Jen stirred in her sleep turning her head in his direction and Esosa bent to kiss her lashes, and then rested his cheek upon hers, a single tear escaped and slid down.
The afternoon of Esosa’s departure Jennifer couldn’t bring herself to the airport, she stayed at home watching the thunderstorm. With each crack of thunder and flash of lightning Jen startled and brought her knees closer to her chest. The rain pounded against her window, the wind gusted past her curtains and the ginger tea at her side cooled. In one breathe she was praying for the destruction of the airplane so it be deemed unfit for travel for the next twenty years and in the next breath telling God she always knew Esosa was destined for greater things and asking that He bless his journey. Esosa did not send a goodbye text, she had instructed him as much. What else was there to be said? Words on a screen could not say what his touch had, console the way his arms could, it did not smell like him. And at the precise moment the plane took off Jen felt her heart break distinctly in half.
A lot can happen in six years and although the asphalt streets in front of Holloway Grove remain the same, the people who live within its walls altered and matured. Many no longer worked there, most had bigger offices, and others had even bigger families. It was all shades of laughter and wine and music as all good memories are: there was laughter at Sandra’s first play in the National Theatre and wine at her first Nollywood feature length premiere as Jen and her fellow co workers were treated to executive seats watching their friend play a recovering alcoholic. There was dance at Meg’s wedding in Muson Centre; Mrs. Shaw and her employees grooved till the early hours of the morning when they bid the newlyweds safe trip to Hawaii for their honeymoon. There was more dancing at Musa’s retirement party; he returned to his native state of Nasarawa still without a wrinkle visible to the naked eye. Blushed at all the attention he received, the presents that crowded the bus the company rented for his journey and still did not seem to grasp what an impact he had on the people working in Holloway. There was wine at Mariya’s promotion party; she was elected head of the newest branch of Prada & Co auditing firm situated in Accra, Ghana. There was wine and shisha at the Moroccan restaurant; Kabir bashfully whispered to Jen he had fallen in love with Sa’ada; the beautiful, dimpled humanitarian that worked for Amnesty International, the headquarters which Kabir’s team helped build. There was laughter on the eighth floor; Alaye had begun dating Rita, Femi swore to remain an eternal bachelor.
The HR ladies remained unchanging like the sculpture in the lobby, the air conditioners continuously kept the offices very chilled, coffee machines remained the first thing switched on each morning and the new receptionist preferred Genevieve magazines to True Love. Everything had changed and nothing had changed.
Jennifer Ovbiagele was Mrs. Shaw’s right hand and learnt eagerly from her mentor aware she was being groomed to take the reins sometime in the future. The date was uncertain and Jen was in no hurry, for she was enjoying her life. She had loved and lost, healed two broken hearts, become a Godmother and made peace with the fact that she could never love as much as she once loved another; grateful only that she had a chance to experience the joy of a soul mate. There was no rush to fast-forward, for now she was appreciating the present.Jennifer Ovbiagele however did not know that next week Friday, on a dusty Harmattan afternoon as she sits on her desk swinging her legs and organising Meg’s baby shower. Esosa Oyakilhome clad in a charcoal grey double breasted suit, dark red silk tie, and shiny cufflinks, would march up to her desk, inform her he had returned to Lagos and ask her once again to be his girlfriend.