A message came on my phone.
Happy introduction. I wish you a life filled with love, laughter and luxury. AA
It was such a sweet line I must have had this goofy grin on my face as the girls demanded I read the text out and I did.
“That is so cute,” Patience said with a dreamy look in her eyes wishing for a romantic guy to cross her path.
Patience and the rest of the girls here were among my closest circle of friends. Work and marriage have hindered the frequency of our hangouts, but family programs were a must, and our chat room was as potent as any physical meeting.
“Who is AA?” queried Deola. Deola has been my friend way back as teenagers. We never had those familiar girl friendship fights. We were comfortable with the times and seasons of our lives and adjusted with a sense of maturity that bonded us.
“AA is not Bode, but I will read his text so you won’t be disappointed,” I answered.
“AA?” Peju questioned.
“I thought I knew the names of most of your friends even if I can’t put faces to their names.”
“Andrew,” our boss I answered without a thought to it.
“Andrew?” Hadiza asked with a raised eyebrow.
“You naughty girl and I thought you were our perfect example. Getting engaged to one and stringing another,” said Hadiza with a triumphant look like one who had caught a thief.
The look on my face must have been tragic. Filled with shock and unbelief, I exclaimed, “My boss and I!
You are crazy Hadiza! I uttered, the whole time thinking how she could interpret a thoughtful text could in such a mean way.
She shrugged and was about to say something but changed her mind.
“If you decide to ditch Bode at the last minute,” Tope from my office chipped in, “I will be willing to take him off you.”
We all busted with laughter as this doused whatever tension was brewing.
Tope is a married woman with two sets of twins and a husband most girls only dreamed off in their fantasy land.
Telepathically, Tunde knocked on our door. He could not have chosen a right time to seek his wife.
“Who is there shouted out the girls? My room had to be sworn a no go area as we waited to be called out to the introduction meeting going on between Bode’s family and mine.
“I need my wife?” Came Tunde’s voice through the closed door.
“You had better take her now because she is queuing for someone else’s husband,” Hadiza shouted which resulted in another round of laughter.
Tunde started singing.
“Olomi, onitemi, oremi, ololufe, oju kan, sha lada ni Lola oluwa ko si oun ti o yawa,” a Yoruba love song by Tosin Martins.
We all clapped when he finished and pushed his wife out to him. His singing could earn him a seat on American Idols season 8.
“Can you read Bode’s text?” Hadiza asked not one to be easily distracted.
I snap open my phone to read the one he sent this morning.
“PJ, you are a fulfilment of my dreams. From the first day, I met you. You carved a special place in my heart without knowing it. Etched in the inside of me, that I saw you awake and in my dreams. I love you then, love you more now and will spend the rest of my life loving you. B.”
“I was there when they first met! Exclaimed Patience, with excitement like that of a little girl. The other girls shouted her down. She shrugged them off and continued. Contrary to her name, she was one of the very impatient people I had met, but I loved her to pieces as there was no pretence with her.
“I meant I was there when it was just about to start. The eyes Bode had then was all on Lana. They were friends with this his three other friends. What are their names again? Ayo, Gbenga and Dotun, but the fireworks between these two were visible to the blind except them,” she continued her story undaunted.
Now she had all the girls eating from her hand as they heard another bit of the Bode and Lana’s story they already knew in part but were still carried away with Patience compelling storytelling skill.
Lana has her walls and how she was out of the league of dating but when Bode asked it was a tough one to say no as she had always done in the past.
So she said the Yes that transformed Bode from an ordinary guy to a knight in shining armour blazing his sword to destroy anyone and anything that threatened Lana. Sadly, when the real threat came, it was from Lana herself, he had to surrender his sword in defeat and hope against all the odds that their love will win.
Their tragedy began when Lana started working and got this crazy idea of becoming a senior manager before thirty. She wanted to move her career faster than anyone she knew. Throwing herself and shelving everything else. Bode was caught in this battle and callously against her heart pleadings she focused on her career without turning back banishing him out of the Lana Kingdom.
Her heart betrayed her time and time again. And she found out that being closer to her goal without love was empty, and here we are today to celebrate the beginning of series of parties and get together in honour of Mr and Mrs Bode Coker.”
The girls were applauding her.
“We are all suckers for romance, sometimes we are lucky and other times maybe not, but love will find us, and that is life. Our romance might not be the storybook kind, but it does have a way of finding us,” I said with a conviction of one who saw the future.
“Why did you first walk away Lana?” Deola asked.
The one million dollar question I have tried to answer. In the beginning, I was sure I was doing the right thing but in the last six months of walking with my head in the clouds and my heart filled with so much love that I am afraid it would burst, I could not have been so wrong as to have thought I could live without Bode. These were my thoughts but to answer Deola, I would say my selfishness.
“Selfishness. I felt I knew what I wanted for my life then, and it did not include relationships even with love. My head spoke for my heart. I try not to live in regrets. I’ m almost where I want to be in my career.
I have seen marriages do work. Thanks to Peju here I throw a smile towards her direction. I have also witnessed a restored marriage, which planted a seed of hope in my heart. I had my fears and still do but I am ready to love without reservation,” I said leaving out the details of the restored marriage being that of my parent.
How many of us develop our perception and expectations of marriage from the marriages we see around, especially from our immediate families. I prayed in my heart that mine would be a good example for our children and not put a clog in the wheels for them or tarnish something meant to be beautiful but spoilt by two imperfect and lost people.
“Your marriage will be heaven on earth,” Deola said with a knowing and my heart leapt in agreement. It was my desire, and I was ready to give it my all to have just that.
Time must have passed. We talk just about just anything under the sun.
“What is taking them so long to call us out?” Peju asked.
“I hope your family is not asking for Airbus 380 as bride price,” joked Patience.
“If they did, Bode should be able to foot the bill with his developing IT solutions business,” replied Peju.
Bode had done well for himself in the years we were apart. He still worked with the bank but on negotiated hours. How Bode was able to secure such a deal was still beyond me. But it gave him time to nurture his business, and he had solutions and software developed for banking operations in and outside Nigeria. He was in money now, but that mattered less to me. It was his heart that I wanted sealed and delivered a hundred percent for the rest of our lives.
His money made no difference to me. I had mine and my career. I was comfortable and contented. Okay, I’ll be honest I could get the trips I wanted now without batting an eyelid or worrying about the immediate cost and long term effect on my bank account. However, one thing I am displeased about is moving to Banana Island where all the big boys live. I see too many people with fake lives on that axis. Living on the mainland is my desire, but hey! A girl has to go where the guy has a house so I get ready to live and adjust with my new neighbours and not have to turn up my nose or roll my eyes when I come across them.
Let me go and see what is happening outside, said Peju as she went out but met her husband, Phil by the door.
“No guys in here,” shouted the girls.
Please, he raised his hands in mock surrender. I could at least talk to my wife.
He took round Peju who was six months pregnant with a warm hug, how his hands were able to go round her still amazed me. Peju had tripled in size. My slim petite friend was as round as a hippo although she claimed she was more on looking like an elephant. If I was still analysing the hug, then he gave her a full kiss on her mouth!
“You guys should please go home,” teased Deola.
“That is my request to you ladies,” he said still holding his wife.
Peju here has been on her feet all day, and on Doctor’s orders has to take plenty of rest in her last trimester. She is not cooperative, but I think she has had enough for today,” said Phil gazing into Peju’s eyes with liquid love.
“I am very okay,” she argued lamely as her body gave her away as she struggled to stifle a yawn that betrayed her.
“Being pregnant does not make you an invalid,” she argued lamely as another yawn escaped from her.
We all laughed.
“Superwoman go home and rest. You have been yawning since Phil came. I wonder how we all missed it here,” I said.
“You have to go. I will give you the rest of the story tomorrow over the phone,” I urged Peju as Phil pleaded with his eyes knowing she will feel less guilty if I insisted she left.
Peju gave in, and I could see the relief on Phil’s face. He looked up to thank me, and I saw a bit of apprehension in his eyes as he smiled not those his confident ones.
I wondered if truly Peju was in danger with this pregnancy and he was trying to hide it from her. I made a mental note to call him tomorrow and discuss strategies to ensure she got the required rest. The baby meant a lot to Peju, I have figured.
Right from the moment, she found out she was pregnant. She had blossomed with an inner joy. The pregnancy was the next best thing in her life after marrying Phil. The scan revealed twins and you could have seen Peju that day. She was over the moon with joy as she called me to give me the Idowu breaking news as she called it.
She and Phil had no record of twins in their immediate families. It was not a dream they nurtured. The scan revealed they were same sexes, but Peju did not want to be disappointed as she pointed out that some scans could be wrong so she was having an open mind till they arrived.
Peju has also been in the best of health except for her cravings for isi- ewu, a goat head meat delicacy from the eastern part of the country that must not be prepared in her house because of the smell when boiling the meat.
“God, please keep Peju and the baby safe,” I whispered a prayer.
“ Have they taken the gifts to the car?” My mother yelled in Yoruba to Risi one of her younger cousins who lived with us.
“Yes, Auntie,” she replied.
“What about Baba Bisola? Have you called him? Is he on his way?” she asked as she came out of her room tieing her headgear along the way.
The buzz around the house was an eight using a scale of 1- 10.
Baba Bisola is my mother’s only surviving sibling that I knew. He was her immediate elder brother. She had a twin sister I had never seen who lived abroad and had been coming home for as long as I could remember but never did.
Mother mentioned, she probably would be coming back this year. It was for me the usual hope and aspiration the family had a child who went to the white land and never came back. The only proof we had that she was alive were the birthday cards she sent to my mother every year with a gift.
The door bell rang
“Risi, get the door,” my mother yelled as I cringed my ears. She was jittery today checking everything over and over as if something might go wrong.
I went over to hug her.
“Mami,” as I fondly called her.
“You need to calm down. It is just the introduction, and we need you fit for the wedding.”
“Ha oko mi,” her favourite name for me.
It is not every day. I get to go to the introduction of my only son.
The first impression matters. The family we are going to has to know that you came from a well brought up family so everything must be done right.
“Mum,” I reverted to the way I called her in public
You are a judge and a respectable one. We don’t have to worry about the first impression. The perception in the community is one to be desired by many, I said.
My mum is a judge with a good heart, and the community knew if you had a problem, Mama Bode would have a solution. She was a woman filled with kindness that she would go without food to ensure the people under her care had food to eat.
When my father died, it almost killed my mother, but somewhere along the line, she found the strength to pick her life together. Finished law school and started practicing alongside the Ankara business, the sale of local fabrics. The trading paid her bills, but law gave her an outlet to live her life and find fulfilment.
My mother is a strict woman with a heart of gold. The discipline I went through as an only child raised suspicion to me then that I was not her child but adopted. The fear of Mami was the beginning of my wisdom. In my moment of fleeting juvenile delinquency, she was equal to the task.
I recollect a day. She caught me smoking with a group of boys around the corner of our street. She drove past like she did not see me. I rushed home not without putting tom-tom, the minty sweet in my mouth to dispel the smell.
I prostrated to greet her in the usual fashion I had been trained and offered to help with the bags she was carrying which she declined.
Olabode was the name she used when I had done something wrong
I was filled with trepidation almost peeing on myself with fear that she had found me out
“Olabode, you are reeling with the smell of smoke. Where did you go?”
“Nowhere Mami, maybe it is from Iya Kemi’s shop where I went to buy tom – tom,” I opened my mouth to reveal the sweet. The only truth to the story.
“Okay o! if you say so,” she said emphasising the o.
She took some change from her bag and handed it to me. Please buy a packet of that cigarette you and your friends were smoking with just now.
I stood there transfixed. Mami had found me out, and I had no clue why she was asking me to go and buy it. I did what any child would do I started crying how sorry I was and won’t do it again
“Odabe,” she said in Yoruba meaning, Itis all good that way
“But still go and buy the packet for me,” she ordered.
I left to buy it praying that God would send a helper in the person of a visitor or relation who would plead my case.
I came back with the pack of cigarette, and no one had arrived.
There was my mum, seated on a local stool, outside the house with a whip I had never seen in her hand.
“Go and get matches from the kitchen,” she instructed me.
I went in still wondering what she had in store for me. And back with the matchbox,
She handed cigarette box to me.
“Take one, light and start smoking,” she commanded.
My mother must have gone mad but the fear to voice my thoughts in the light of what was happening prevented me from saying a word.
What was so exciting back there with my group of friends held no attraction.
“Ogbeni,” she called out to me, meaning Mr. when she calls me that I knew it was in deeper trouble than Olabode. She walked over to close our gate. My prayer for helper dashed to pieces before my feet.
That gate would remain closed till she was through with me.
I had to clue whether she was going to use the whip on me or not. She had never beaten me before, but I had taken a few slaps and corporal punishment.
My imagination of the effect of the whip on my body left me bowling.
I had seen it used on my peers at school. I had never been a recipient either because getting punished in school was tantamount to getting punished two days in a row at home or I was lucky not to get into any trouble.
I could not put the cigarette to my mouth. I was shaking.
“You will smoke the whole park today,” she threatened.
“You want to smoke? you will smoke today,” she asked and answered the question while I gazed at her hoping I was in a bad dream.
The first cigarette was with fits of coughing, the second I was gasping for breath still, Mami did not stop or bat an eyelid she meant I was to finish the pack.
I did not go beyond the third when I must have slumped or so I thought.
Mami just poured water on me, woke, me up in my state and offered me to continue where we stopped.
I cried and begged and promised never to go near it.
I never touched a cigarette in my life after that incidence, and I could not stand the smell.
Suffice to say I learnt my lesson that day.
That was Mami for you. You can only imagine what she was like in the courtroom. Stories that filtered had it that Mami was a man and not a woman. Her strength, resilience and discipline were worth emulating You could never give her a bribe. Her colleagues would advise you not to try.
Risi got to the door, opened it, but she was standing there with no one coming in although we could hear a voice.
“Risi who is there? Let the person come in. We were still expecting Baba Bisola,” said Mami.
I saw Risi moved to the side of the door to allow the person walk in.
The woman before me was a replica of my mother.! She was a little hesitant at first but continued to where we sat.
Mami was transfixed for a few seconds then what followed next was like something from a movie. They were crying and hugging wiping their tears and crying all over again.
I don t know if we would have ever left the house for my introduction if my Uncle, Baba Bisola had not shown up.
He took a look at my aunt with disgust and spoke to my mum,
“Mama Bode, we have to start going what is before us is bigger than a prodigal daughter coming home,” he hissed the words with disgust.
Right now was not the moment to get all the story out but they had days to catch up, and we all moved out of the house.
My mother asked her sister to come along if she was not tired. She declined that she would rest. It had been a stressful journey.
“ What is she coming to do? To spread her bad luck to others?” asked Baba Bisola visibly annoyed.
“Egbon!” my mother exclaimed
“We do not throw the baby and the water away, At least you will hear her out she must have a story,” she said.
“Don’t we all, 28 long years? How many deaths did she come home? She thinks we need her money. Thank God we have enough of our own,” if you don’t want to go for your son’s introduction but sit here and waste your time with her. I can be going to my house.
“Oti o – meaning no. Egbon, please give us thirty minutes to prepare. We will be out soon,” my mum persuaded him.
He grumbled of how wrong it was for her to go with them. Someone they had not seen in twenty-eight years and she was off to a family function.
My mother and Aunt came out dressed alike. I could not tell the difference until I looked into their eyes. There was a spark in my mothers that wasn’t in that of my Aunts.I was glad to be able to tell the difference.
Mami has been buying two of every wear she had for years. It was her usual fashion that when her twin came back home finally she would need them.
She was often scoffed at by my uncle – Baba Bisola why she even bothered.
Today, her dreams finally came true.
We got into the cars. My mum and her twin sister in one. Baba Bisola, Risi and I in the other while I drove.
I was glad when we got to Lana’s house as Baba Bisola fumed all through the journey as to why they were allowing a total stranger to a family gathering.
I did not know what happened in the past, but whatever it was, it must have been bad to get Baba Bisola riled up that way.
They would sort it out when they talked. They were adults.
My family issues were all forgotten as we got into the house for the introduction. I could not wait to see Lana.
I had booked a restaurant later this evening to celebrate this milestone alone with her.
Having her back in my life was a dream I refused to give up. How I survived the last five years without her is still a mystery to me because now I can’t get enough of just catching a glimpse of her and getting lost in those eyes filled with love and a promise of a thousand better tomorrows.