That’s not him.
That’s not him.
That’s not him.
That’s not him.
That was the argument that had been raging in her head for the last twenty or so minutes. Her brain was nagging her at the particular guy seated a few tables across her eating his food. He looked so much like Niiyi, but at the same time, he looked so different from Niiyi, even though she had not seen Niiyi in six years?? Maybe seven??
The guy across her had the face and body stature that looked like Niiyi, but Niiyi was not as built as this. If he was Niiyi, that would mean that he had spent A LOT of time in the gym to get like this. He looked like Niiyi, she wouldn’t deny that, but Niiyi was not bald. She didn’t even think she had ever seen Niiyi on low cut. The guy (sorry, man) she was looking at had a very shiny bald head that looked like a strand of hair had never grown on it, and it looked perfect on him.
Niiyi wore t-shirts, this man was wearing a black turtleneck and black jeans and black leather shoes. The sombre colour was something Niiyi would definitely wear, but not the clothes style. Of course, it was very on character for Niiyi to be alone in public, but if it was him, his ears would be plugged with something and his head would be bopping to music. There was an airpods case on the table though, if that could be considered as a pointer for anything.
Her brain insisted that she knew this person, but her mind was skeptical and her eyes kept darting back and forth. Trying to find more details, and trying to remain inconspicuous.
“Ma, do you want to pay with cash or with your card??”
Her eyes shot up to the voice behind her. She hadn’t heard or seen the waiter walk up to her, so she was a little startled.
“What did you say??”
“I said do you want to pay with your card or pay in cash??”
“Card. Is there POS??”
“Yes ma. Let me go and get it. I’ll be right with you.”
She watched the waiter walk away to the other occupied tables and ask the same question. There were three tables occupied in the restaurant. Hers, Niiyi’s (or at least his lookalike) and one with four people seated around it. They had more papers on their table than food. They had all opted to pay with their cards.
The waiter came back with the POS machine and attended to Niiyi’s lookalike and spent a few minutes with him before moving to the next table. by the time he got to her, the lookalike was already on his feet and gathering his things. He was done and ready to leave and she still hadn’t gotten a clear view of his face yet, and it was even harder with her view blocked by the waiter and her attention divided between him and the POS machine. By the time she was done, his table was empty. She tried to see if she could see the exit he left from, but she didn’t see anything because he actually hadn’t left. He was behind the waiter, waiting for them to conclude business before he stepped into her view and spoke with his rich deep baritone voice.
“Taiwo??…I knew it was you”
“Niiyi!!!” She got up to hug him because she was truly happy that it had turned out to be him.
You see, Taiwo and Niiyi were long time friends that had seen each other through dark times and even darker times, and eventually the relationship had morphed into something physical, and it had been beautiful. Up until the moment where Taiwo had decided that she didn’t want the two of them to continue whatever they were doing without putting an official title on it. Niiyi didn’t feel like he was ready for the commitment and responsibility, so he didn’t want the official tag, and they broke up. After the breakup, Niiyi had thought that he would still have his friend, just without the sex, but he was wrong. She cut him off entirely. Deleted his numbers, blocked him on social media accounts and created new ones to avoid him and cut off all their mutual friends too. Of course, Niiyi found these accounts and he found out about every other thing she had done and he confronted her about it, and she had told him that she was done with him. The breakup had been painful, but Niiyi still had hope that she would come around. Hell, he had even been open to putting an official status on their relationship like she wanted. But after graduating from uni (two years after their final breakup) and there was still no response from her, not even to congratulate him on making a first class degree, he knew it was over and he moved on with his life too.
During his NYSC, he met another person. Another wonderful lady, and he made sure to put an official status on their relationship and everyone knew them together. And it would have ended in marriage too, if the lady had not died during the birth of their son. After his NYSC came a very lucrative job with an oil company where he had been working for the last eight years. He was a made man, and it showed on him.
Taiwo too had gone on with her life. She dated a few guys in school after she and Niiyi broke up, but nothing serious came out of it. During her NYSC, she decided to discard her hijab and put religion on backpedal. She had been fornicating anyways, so there was no need for that again. Plus she didn’t entirely believe in religion anymore after her two older brothers died a week apart from each other. Both of them taking their last breaths in her arms. She became an only child overnight. She got a job after NYSC and eventually ended up marrying her boss. A decision that she would regret for the rest of her life, but she didn’t know that on the day of the nikkai.
She was the second wife to a very territorial woman who bullied and abused her physically and emotionally and mentally till she had to get her own place. She also changed jobs multiple times. It was hard to get respect and secure promotions at where she and her husband worked without having to deal with insinuations of having married to get ahead. She quit and applied to other jobs, but they wouldn’t take her because they didn’t want a scandal, or they offered her lower positions and paychecks than she should have had. A few of them even demanded for sex from her. Demanded, not asked, not cajoled, demanded. Because “For Glo where you dey come, no be toto you use collect work??” The world of telecommunications was a very small one and these things flew around and she was helpless to them, even if they were all untruths.
Eventually, she had given up and gotten into the importation business. The rich men in the Telecomms world wouldn’t hire her, but at least their wives would buy Gucci bags and Chanel sandals from her. It was hard, but she made something out of it. Having only her own mouth to cater to also helped. Her parents had died out of grief from their sons’ deaths, but that was okay, They were old anyways. She didn’t have a child either. She and Alhaji were always busy when she still worked at the office, and even when they weren’t busy, there was still the first wife to contend with. When she quit, he had neglected her entirely and married a third wife. She was married in name only. Life had dealt her her cards.
The hug lasted for five long minutes and she enjoyed every bit of it. Even though her height was not nearly up to his and she had to stand on her toes while pulling him down at the same time. The smell of his perfume filled her nostrils and she realised that the way he laughed with his thick voice was something she missed and she did not want to let go. His voice was much deeper and even now, and his smell had changed a lot from the two hundred naira perfumes he used to use when they were still in school.
The last time she had seen him, she was in a car carrying her brothers’ corpses to the village, and he was in a car that passed by theirs on the journey. They had seen each other, but there was no chance of communication as both cars moved past each other in opposite directions.
The last time she had spoken with him, it was at his apartment in school when she had gone to return the several gifts he had bought her and his things that he always seemed to forget at her place. Both instances were years ago, and now he was here in front of her.
She almost couldn’t believe it.
“I was going to leave, but then I saw you and I had to come say hello. I almost didn’t recognise you. You stopped covering your hair.”
“Yes. I saw you too. I was like who is that fine man sitting by himself?? I wanted to come and collect your number sef. Fine man. You look good.”
“Guy, don’t start this again, please” He wasn’t used to her constant teasing anymore and he was as susceptible as ever. If she pushed too hard, he would probably empty his account on her. And his account was a lot.
“I’m serious. You look fiiiiiiiine. Why are you cutting skin though?? I like you when you had hair. Although this one fits you too sha. Awon madam nko??”
“Ko si madam jare. She’s late. I decided not to marry again.
The hair thing is recent. I had a bet with one of my bosses that I could rock skin better than him. I won the bet and I just decided to keep it that way. How have you been Taiwo??”
That question made her just want to start running her mouth and tell him every detail of everything that had happened in her life since they had broken up, but she couldn’t bring herself to. The memory of having been the one that broke up with him made her unable to.
But more than the question, it was his eyes. He looked at her like he was looking at a younger version of her. A younger version of her that was on top of her world and was perfect in his eyes. His eyes touched her and made her feel something inside.
It felt like this was her Niiyi, and she could claim to be his, and all was right in the world, but it only felt like that. She was not his, and he was not hers. And nothing was right in the world.
But they both still sat and caught up on old memories and talked about what had happened to either of them since they last spoke. They spoke for hours until Niiyi’s driver came to remind him that they had a meeting to be at. He was going to blow the meeting off, but she had to leave too. They could only exchange contacts and promise to keep in touch with each other from time to time. Both of them conveniently skirting the breakup.
Niiyi’s car left the restaurant grounds with him explaining how that was the woman he wanted to marry when he was still in university. How they loved each other and he had even made plans for them to travel out together and had started saving up towards it. He laughed at himself for his youthful naivete, and his heart ached silently as he laughed out loud.
Taiwo too, alone and silent in her car, wished that things had gone differently.
It isn’t until weeks later, during a delivery run on the island that she decided to call him and ask for an invitation to his place. Of course, the idea of seeing him again had been constantly reappearing in her mind, but she still couldn’t will herself to call him. Even the decision to call him had been made in the middle of the road while she was driving. She had made beautiful sales in the last couple of days and she was feeling particularly good with herself and decided that she would call him. What was the worst thing that could happen??
She found the nearest parking spot and searched for his number on her phone and called him. When she made the call and the voice she heard from the other end was a woman’s voice, she tensed up a little. But it was only his secretary. He was not in the country, but he would be back by the weekend and he would call her when he got back.
On Friday afternoon as he was walking out of the airport, her number was the third one he called from an endless list of people who had tried to reach him. Saturday was when they fixed their appointment for. He hadn’t wanted to call it a date, so appointment was the next most appropriate thing. But it was going to happen, and it was going to happen at his place and it surprised him that someone of his age and status could still get excited by that kind of thing. If it hadn’t been the jetlag and fatigue in his bones, he probably wouldn’t have slept that night.
The next day rolled around and in nervousness and anticipation, she dressed up and left her house to go to his. His house was big, very big, but it wasn’t an ugly monstrosity like most of the other houses that were in his estate. It was obviously built to taste. He was outside waiting for her, looking like he was going to buy something at the supermarket than for a date (*appointment) with an old friend that used to be the love of his life.
He wore a plain white shirt and black shorts. A single gold bracelet was around his left wrist. His two phones were in his hand and his wallet bulged from his pocket. His hair and beard were showing signs of growth, but it wasn’t so obvious. It looked good on him in a way that was sexy and edgy.
As she got down from her car and looked at the serene sight of the compound, he came over and hugged her and led her inside. From the moment when she stepped into the house, there was no apprehension of any sort. She walked around barefooted as he gave her a tour of the big house and she almost got lost in it. He had two living rooms, eight rooms with their own bathrooms and walk in closets and a library that smelled strongly of old books. Barring the kitchen, that was the only part of the house that smelled differently. They sat by the pool and ate while they talked about everything, but in more details this time. At the end of the day, he knew about her all her woes with Alhaji and his three other wives and their children and how she was desperately fighting for a divorce and she kept getting subverted. and she knew about his heavy workload and heavily politicised job and how he written his letter of early retirement, but the amount of money he made daily and monthly was too much for him to actually submit it. The letter was in his drawer in his office waiting to be signed and submitted the moment he made up his mind that he had enough.
They ate fruits and drank the juice that one of the servants brought out to them. They spent the whole day talking and neither of them noticed as time sped and blurred past them. They eventually went inside to his room upstairs, where he brought out a box of pictures that went as far back as when they were still friends. He had kept the memories all through the years, even though he hardly ever went through them. His graduation pictures were there, pictures of when he started his job, of his siblings and parents, of the late mother of his child and his little boy in London and virtually every other important period of his life. She went through everything and she could only smile at his progress through the years and think to herself “what if??”
He was so proud of how far he had come, even with all the problems he had faced and was still facing, and she could only be proud of him too. He had done well for himself.
The way they sat so close together that their thighs were touching, and the way his voice was thick and resounding in her ears added to the feeling of missing an old friend and having missed out on what would have or could have been a beautiful life was too much for her. Silent tears ran down her face and they largely went unnoticed until a drop fell on one of the photos. She excused herself to go to the restroom before any question could come up.
Even his restroom was beautiful. It looked like a restroom from a magazine. Everything was white and immaculate. The soap smelled like a flower she couldn’t name and the mirror was taller than her. She did her best to clean her face and regain her composure and washed her hands as she left.
When she got back into the room, he had already packed the pictures back into the box. It was unnecessary, but she was grateful for it. She went back to where she sat beside him and they both sat in silence until he decided to hug her and the tears came flowing down her again. Neither of them said anything and just let her cry.
After a while, she stopped crying and just sat in his embrace in the cool air conditioned room. When she looked up at him, his eyes were already on her, and she didn’t think twice about it, she kissed him.
The kiss was weird for her because she didn’t imagine that she would be kissing anyone again. She was thirty two, and a certain age, these things just stopped happening. And if she had thought about it, she couldn’t have imagined that it would be him she would be kissing, even though there was no one else that she would rather do it with.
He too, had felt weird about the kiss. As a result of work and his busy schedule, he generally had no time for women. Since the death of the mother of his son, he could count all the women he had been with on one hand. He was busy with work and the thought of having a second child was not something that plagued him, but the idea of using his lips to wipe off the pink lipstick that coloured her lips was something that he had thought about all evening. And now that it happened, the memories of their escapades so many years ago came flooding back. It was like those memories had been locked away and sunk to the depths of his mind, but the moment their lips touched, they were back like nothing ever happened. And he also realised how much he had loved the woman in his arms.
…and then all that was followed by memories of how she had broken him and torn his world apart.
He wasn’t going to do that to himself again. And he wouldn’t give her a chance to do it either.
He let the kiss run its course because he didn’t want to stop it halfway. Her enthusiasm told him of how much she had missed the touch of a man. How much she had missed his touch in particular. He didn’t want to separate from her and then shatter her heart. No, he wouldn’t do that. He wasn’t a cruel man. And if he was being entirely honest with himself, he was enjoying it too. Much more than he thought he would. Much more than he should have, and he almost got carried away with it, but he regained his senses.
As the kiss broke up and Taiwo was about to stand up and pull his shirt from over his head, he held her hands.
“Taiwo…stop. We can’t do this…”
She just sat there looking puzzled with her makeup smudged lips.
“We can’t do this. The last time we did something like this, I was the one that was broken for almost four years. I’m sorry, I can’t do this again.”
“Niiyi we were kids then, I didn’t know anything, I’m sorry”
“I know, but I can’t do this…I really can’t. All these years, I kept waiting for you to come back to me. Even when I was dating Lara, and even after she died. I was waiting for you. Do you understand that?? I was waiting for you to come back to me from a breakup that happened years ago, even when I had my son in my hands…”
Then it hit her. It was in that moment that she truly came to understand the damage she had done to him. She had made her decisions based solely on her own feelings. Her own wants and needs, and she had conveniently forgotten about him and how he would feel.
There was nothing wrong in the way she had prioritised herself and her own feelings except that now there was a broken man in front of her. A man too broken to even hold her again for fear of being fixed, then broken again. She really understood how it felt, even though she couldn’t begin to understand the pain he had gone through.
She just stood up and walked out of his room, and out the door with her shoes and bag in her hand as she left. She couldn’t even cry on her way home. It hurt, it really did, but the tears were not coming.
She squeezed her eyes and stayed up all night thinking about him, but there was nothing to say or do.
He was done.
On his part, he wished he hadn’t said those things, but he also knew that he had been honest. With himself and with her. It was better this way.
He went downstairs to his kitchen and called out to his chef.
“Chef, ki la ma je laleyi??”
We are very sorry you didn't enjoy this particular story
Let us improve this story
Tell us how the author can improve