We’re just sad clowns,
tamed and scripted,
I’ve come too far,
I’m coming home,
I wanna go back
To when I was young.
– BIG BANG, Loser (kpoplyrics.net)
Can you die from awkwardness?
Because that’s what I felt like doing when Akudo had to elbow Derin aside just to get Etomi’s tall frame in the flat.
She paused when our eyes met, looked delighted then pounced on me.
As she squeezed me tightly, squealing my name (had she forgotten I was here?), I caught a whiff of vodka on her breath.
“Hahaha” I laughed nervously, “I see you started without us, Akudo! Can I talk to you for a second?”
“Hell no,” Akudo pulled away still grinning, “Keep it for the office, can’t you see I’m celebrating? It’s Etomi! Look!”
I looked again and Etomi was watching Akudo with an amused half smile. It was somehow amazing to me that his mouth still did that slight quirk at the side thing. Then Derin cleared his throat and I snapped back to the matter on ground. Where was I? Ah, yes. Mortification and dread.
“Why is everyone just standing around? Derin made us barbecue, lets eat!” Akudo beamed.
“Gigi and I already ate,” Derin said with a distinctly sour tone. “If you and – your guest – are hungry, Patience can warm something for you.”
Akudo frowned, “But Derin, I said I was coming, couldn’t you guys have waited?”
“We did.” Derin said heavily.
“Um…” Etomi spoke up for the first time, his voice was deeper than I remembered it, a man’s voice now, “I’m actually not here to stay. Akudo and I met up for drinks because I’m traveling tomorrow,” he glanced between the couple who were failing to pretend not to glare at each other, “I just drove her home to make sure she was ok…?” he petered off when Derin turned to look at him with open dislike, “my Uber is already at your gate…”
“But you’ll be back in a few months, right?” Akudo said in a cutesy voice and I gaped at her because up until then I had seen my friend as a hardened gangster with a bad but endlessly entertaining mouth.
Etomi glanced again at Derin who was looking increasingly more agitated, “…Yes?”
“So allow us to see you off properly!” Akudo insisted while I watched them like film, “I told you this Merlot isn’t going to drink itself!”
“Akudo, I really have to go – ”
“Kudo, I think you’ve heard the man, he has to go,” Derin cut in then re-opened the front door that he was still standing beside and gave Etomi a pointed look, “unless you want some ribs to go, bruh?”
“I’m actually good, thanks.” Etomi held up his hands in a pronounced I’m-not-trying-to-trespass-on-your-territory gesture. He moved towards the door and paused in front of Derin. He was taller than him. I saw Derin’s look of annoyance and knew he noticed it too. “It was nice to finally meet you, Derin.”
Derin pursed his lips and I just knew he was thinking, how many times have you hooked up with my wife?
Etomi gave us one more glance, smiling at Akudo and nodding at me, before turning to go.
Derin shut the door a little more forcefully than was absolutely polite after him.
“You really had to be that rude to him?” Akudo snapped immediately, the cutesy expression replaced with a hard eyed one.
“Rude to him? I don’t even know who he is! How about you being rude to me by bringing him here without telling me?”
“How is that rude? Ok, I didn’t mention I was bringing him but it was kind of impromptu! Am I supposed to make an appointment to bring people to my own house again?”
“Akudo you were out drinking with some strange guy all night when you knew we were here waiting for you!”
“What strange guy? I’ve known Etomi for over a decade! If there’s any strange guy here, it’s you!” she suddenly turned to me, “Mobolaji tell him!”
Now they were both turned to where I stood clutching my handbag to my chest and trying to blend in with the wall.
So they expected me to participate in this Real Wives of Lagos matter!
I straightened up from the wall suddenly extremely tired of both of them. I know I said the ribs were worth it but that was before Akudo played her Etomi hand, adding more stress than ever to the already messed up group dynamic, bringing up past traumas and shaking me up severely.
I adjusted my handbag. “I think I’m just gonna go home.” I informed them politely and edged towards the door.
Immediately they both looked contrite.
“Gigi – wait – ” Derin started.
“Mobolaji, don’t – ” Akudo said at the same time.
I sped up my edging to a full out scamper, grabbed at the door handle and opened the door, terrified that they were going to stop me. Seriously, I needed to hang with my single friends more. Married friends were just too complicated.
Deep waters with murky depths.
“Thank you for the food.” I said feeling one fleeting moment of regret that I hadn’t packed any to go. I shook it off. This is the kind of thinking that got me here in the first place.
Even as I shut the door behind me I could hear them starting up again.
On the lift going down my heart continued to beat nervously even though I was pretty sure neither of them would come after me. The events of the evening had just been a bit overwhelming and I couldn’t help worrying about Akudo and Derin.
I’m no expert on relationships but – her behavior – wasn’t it somehow? And that was even before Etomi’s fine self (focus! Focus!) needlessly blasted in from the past.
Why did she behave so carelessly with Derin sometimes? Was she tired of him? Or was she trying to get a reaction from him? I’d seen that in a movie once where the wifey didn’t really believe her husband loved her because even though he was really sweet to her, he behaved the same way to everyone. So she started doing crazy things to see if he would get jealous and fight for her.
I always thought it was super obvious that Derin was crazy about Akudo but maybe from inside the relationship it didn’t look that way. Maybe she had a different criteria for feeling loved than I did? One that had nothing to do with sappy smiles, lovey dovey eyes and impossibly delicious ribs.
It was a conundrum that I wasn’t sure I could solve, even with the support of my vast research in the Universities of Silhouette, Avon, Harlequin and the Sibling Ivy League Colleges of Mills & Boons.
Honestly, I would have liked to just stop taking the panadol for their marital headache but, unfortunately for me, it wasn’t that easy to extricate myself from the matter. I had to wonder how I was going to handle my relationship with them from now on. Avoidance? It’s not like I could outright blank Akudo. Not to sound like a user but without her, I was finished at work.
I just had to go back to my old not so successful tactic of learning to tell her No.
If only I had a life. If only I had a girl crew that kept me busy with a whirl of normal social activities like get togethers and clubbing and things you had to sew aso-ebi for.
Or even better, if only I had a boyfriend.
The lift pinged as it reached the ground floor. The doors slid open and I’m not sure who was more surprised between myself and Etomi, when we found ourselves facing each other.
The lift doors closed on me before I was quite able to collect myself. I had to take a deep, bracing breath then push the ground floor button again (half of me praying that the lift was stuck just so I didn’t have to actually see him witness me behaving like an idiot).
The doors opened again and to my chagrin Etomi was still standing there looking a lot less surprised.
I stepped out quickly and it was like I’d also stepped back into my teenage years as I found myself standing there, utterly tongue tied with no recollection of any social skills utilizable for moments like this.
I think it’s ok to say hello, a voice from the hinterlands of my brain ventured.
“Hey,” he said before I could even open my mouth, “are they… alright, up there?”
For someone that had spent so much time in the States he was weirdly accentless, his deep tones simply smoothed over with clear but not over emphasized enunciation.
“Uhr,” I said eloquently with unintended “r” factor “I mean… they’re – um – fine…”
He kind of squinted at me as if trying to see the truth through me.
“They’ll be good by tomorrow,” I said pseudo lightly, “just the usual crazy married people stuff! Makes you wanna stay single forever!“ a thought suddenly occurred to me, “You’re not married are you?”
“I am.” he answered.
My stomach has never plunged so hard to the floor. I couldn’t even tell if it was heartbreak, embarrassment or an actual condition that I should probably go to a hospital about. I started to stutter.
“I’m kidding,” he said turning away from me (no doubt to hide that he was laughing at me) and scanning the parking lot. “Are you parked here?”
I needed a moment to recover from his “joke.” I pointed in the general direction of my car.
He nodded vaguely then just stood there. Have I mentioned that he was all in black? Black, open neck, dress shirt on his wide shouldered frame, black slacks hugging lean hips and tapering down long legs, finished off with large, understatedly beautiful, black shoes – I’m not more materialistic than the average Nigerian but it would be remiss of me not to mention that he smelled like money.
I began to feel self conscious about Peggy, my sweet but admittedly old Nissan so instead of heading towards her I stood there shiftily.
“So…” I said then came up blank. I tried again. “S – so…”
“Lemme walk you to your car.” he said as if he hadn’t heard me and started walking off immediately forcing me to stumble after him in a mild panic.
“What happened to your Uber?” I asked.
“My Uber was an exaggeration.” Etomi said not slowing his stride, “Which one are you?”
I pointed reluctantly at my Nissan and he stopped beside it scanning the building’s underground parking lot as if we were a pop star and her body guard. I stared at him with bemusement till his his heavily lidded gaze came back to me. “Will you be ok going home?” he asked in a disappointingly perfunctory tone.
“I’m the local here,” I said, “I should be asking you.”
He did that thing where very little in his face moves but you get the distinct impression he’s smirking, “I think I can get back to my hotel ok.”
“I could give you a ride if you want…” the words escaped me before I could hyper examine them. Dammit Gigi, a ride? In Peggy? Peggy whose passenger seat is currently buried in a mess of flyers, forgotten documents, that musty shawl that hasn’t been back in the house in over a month and an empty take away container of an indeterminate age? That Peggy? I felt deja vu as my armpits began to prickle with sweat. Please say no, I thought.
“I actually called the Uber after I got downstairs…” he said and I sagged a little with relief.
“Ok!” I said. Now that we’d established how each of us was getting home it crossed my mind that I should just go while I was still somehow ahead. I really wanted to get home so I could start texting Maminat or Dienye (the Kdrama recluse) about him. Both of them knew about my great One That Got Away story. They would understand why this random encounter with him was such a big deal to me and how tragic it was that I was so unprepared for it.
But then if I left, it would be over.
It was a miracle that I was even seeing him again. Was being able to gossip about him comfortably with my friends really worth shortening the experience? Who knew what stars had aligned, what butterfly had fluttered it’s wings in an alternative timeline, what former life I’d sacrificed heroically – to bring me this moment.
I needed to screw up my courage and embrace it because it was time to admit to myself that yes – I had once, like everyone else, had a gigantic crush on this man – and that I regretted denying him all those years ago – regretted cutting the mystery between us short before I could even find out what it was about…
I knew of course that all of it happened a long time ago and I swear I’ve moved on – he really wasn’t the reason I’d never had a boy friend since. I’ve already acknowledged my responsibility for that as I have realized over time that I’m a natural self saboteur when it comes to relationships.
I wasn’t looking for anything crazy like him suddenly asking me out again.
Especially with all the weirdness still hanging between him and my friend.
No, all I wanted at that moment was to enjoy the unexpected experience of having the breath taking man that Etomi had become – all to myself.
Also extending this would give me even more material to share with Maminat and Dienye later.
With this in my mind I took a deep breath. “It’s really cool to see you again…” I said a little too fast.
Etomi indiscreetly checked his chrome wrist watch, “Hm?” he said distractedly.
“I said -,” I began louder.
His phone made a sound and he retrieved it from his pocket, glancing at the lit screen. His face relaxed with what looked like relief. “My car is here,” he said then, “what were you saying?”
I opened my mouth then shut it again shaking my head. “Nothing!” I forced a smile, “Thanks for walking me to my car.”
He murmured a dismissal.
“Have a safe flight tomorrow,” I added.
“Thanks,” he said with a quick smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Tell Akudo I’ll be in touch.”
“Ok,” I said weakly then I watched him walk away.
I was still standing there after he’d exited though the side gate accompanied by effusive farewells from the security guys that routinely gave me a hard time every single time I came here. I stood there till I heard his Uber pull away.
Still clutching my hand bag, I thought about what had just passed between us. No matter how you looked at it, he had been distant. Kind of rude even.
Standing in the parking lot on my own I forced myself to accept that I was kind of hurt and embarrassed about it because – perhaps – maybe – I’d been hoping for something.
I didn’t even know what, just – something.
I decided maybe I wasn’t going to share this one, particular story after all.
Maybe I would just think about it by myself and wonder why someone I had once been able to talk about nostril hairs with was such an impenetrable wall to me now.
Was I being too sensitive again? Was it my ego? Was is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Why did I even try to act like we were friends?
He was nothing to me.
Seriously. Thinking anything else just because he was gorgeous – wasn’t that just being delusional?
I concentrated fiercely on this thought as I finally unlocked Peggy and fell into her comfortable squalor. I hooked up my phone to the music player and pressed play. Big Bang’s Loser conveniently started to play and I shook my head at the irony and let it play anyway because – well, Big Bang is awesome, d’uh.
Etomi was nothing. The past is the past. That’s just the truth.
It stung though.
Like you wouldn’t believe.
It was already 2 am when my second anonymous message of the day arrived.
I was still awake because after leading us on with with stable electricity till about 12:30am, PHCN had unceremoniously taken their light and left me in the darkness with my old friends heat and the anopheles mosquitoes.
It was especially annoying because if they’d taken light earlier we would have had the Gen on and I wouldn’t have had to turn it off till 2am by which time my little guest room in my Aunt’s Lekki Phase 1 Duplex might have cooled off a bit.
It would have been loud (my window literally looked out at the Mikano monstrosity. Silent Gen my behind.) but what’s that compared to an air-conditioned night and waking up to phone batteries that are at least a quarter way charged. Once it is past midnight though, it is taboo to touch the Gen again.
Unless you were watching league football.
Or having a party.
Or a medical emergency.
The point is that once it’s past midnight, you’d best have a torch that has been charging while there was light. I’m not sure why these are the rules. I didn’t make them but I don’t break them either. The last person anyone wants to offend in this country is whatever god presides over back up power.
So I was twisting sweatily in my sheets because all this meant was I’d gotten home at just before 12 midnight, turned on my AC at about 12:15am and been plunged into darkness (because PHCN aka NEPA is dramatic and does not simply “cut off your power”) literally fifteen minutes later by that wicked company. It was HOT and I couldn’t even distract myself with watching MVs on my laptop or scrolling Bella Naija because naturally, I now had to ration my batteries.
I was surprised when I heard my whatsapp alert and I recognized the unknown number immediately from earlier since I’d tried so hard to identify it. Once again it was a single word message.
I sighed. If all was right with the world and I’d woken up to this message after a cool night under my duvet I would have hissed and immediately deleted it. But I was having a rough time. So I answered.
The answer came immediately.
“Which part of don’t message me again did you not comprehend.”
There was a small pause. I felt an intensifying itch on my arm, slapped at it and then contemplated the tiny clot of blood and spindly legs in my palm with vengeful satisfaction.
“I comprehended it just fine” the response finally came.
“But after much thought” it continued.
“I decided to disregard it.”
I stared at my phone wondering where my possibly prepubescent Lothario was getting all his liver from. Was it the raging hormones of adolescence? I decided it was time to scare him straight.
“Look” I typed, “you know these things can be traced right?” I smiled smugly to myself and added, “And I have friends in IT”
“Don’t we all” came the cool and unshaken response.
Now I was the one who was getting scared.
“Meaning?” I typed.
“Those things can also be made extremely hard to trace.” they responded.
I didn’t like that. I didn’t like their confidence and it was dark and I was alone. I decided once again that the conversation was over.
“That’s not cool at all” I typed, “Pls stop being a stalker. Bye.”
This time I blocked the number before deleting the conversation.
Then I was too nervous to try to sleep so I scrolled through BN and Instagram till my phone died.
When eventually, exhaustion took me out, I dreamed of the blind date I had with Alex Madukwe just that it was Etomi that was there and for some reason we had milkshakes.
He was sipping at his from a straw in a big old wine glass then something happened and he laughed so hard his milkshake shot straight out of his nose. Then he was suddenly Etomi Eyakodevu who was still shorter than me.
And everything was ok.