The sky was a clear blue the day I met her. She sat, cross-legged, with a forlorn expression at the BRT station, waiting for the next bus as I was. Her hair, a huge Afro formed a frame around her face making her appear porcelain like. I knew right away that she was mixed — definitely Nigerian diluted with some Asian country, it was written all over her features.
I sat beside her and she flinched immediately, scrunching up her face as if to wade off conversation from intrusive strangers. I noticed because it was the sort of thing to draw my attention — expressions on strangers, the anxiety on a child’s face when he loses grip of his mother, the sadness when a loved one is bidding another farewell.
It was to be a long wait, soon enough the queue lengthened. I found relief in having a seat and as usual, I brought out a book to read; Efe Paul Azino’s For Broken Men Who Cross Often.
It wasn’t until I felt the nudge that I knew someone was talking to me. I turned and it was her, the uptight air was gone and in its stead, curiosity.
“You read poetry?” she asked softly.
I replied in the affirmative with an abruptness that wasn’t intended. She sensed the coldness and looked away and I immediately felt bad.
“I never used to read them until the first time I heard spoken word poetry” I said to her, hoping to make up for the prior coldness, “Since then I’ve tried to read everyone I come across, it’s a whole new world I’m learning to unravel and loving it.”
She smiled but said nothing. I smiled back, expectant. When it was clear that she would say nothing else, I returned to the familiar world of words.
The bus came soon after, and as I jumped to my feet, she turned to me again, this time with a pleading stare.
“Sit beside me when we get inside” she said, searching my face, her eyes imploring me to say yes.
Once on the bus she became chatty. She said her name was Nneka but everyone called her Nikki. I told her mine was Dele and people called me Dele to the best of my knowledge. It made her laugh, and her laughter was one that I was sure people found enjoyable and unforgettable.
And so we talked, first about poetry and then about everything else — music, art, architecture, fiction, and even politics, both of us quickly agreeing that the present government was even worse than the last and we were sold airy dreams.
The bus was soon getting to my stop and I informed her.
‘”Where are you going?” she asked, and at that moment I knew she felt the same thing as I did; a mild sadness at the impending end of our conversation.
“I’m heading back to Law School. I went home for a few days to spend time with my mother.”
“Oh”, her mouth forming a small o, “You’re a student?” She looked confused like she must have read my age wrong.
“Technically, this is my second degree. I have one in English but I wasn’t satisfied with it and decided to go study Law.”
“Look what we have here,” she stretched her hand towards me in mock salute, “An academician!”
“Noooooo” I replied in mock protest.
“And he’s humble too.”
The bus drew to a stop and I turned to look at her. There was an awkward silence and I stretched out my phone towards her. She took it and typed in her number. When she gave it back to me, her hand lingered on mine.
“I’m going to call you now just in case you gave me a wrong number like all light skin girls have been known to do”.
She laughed and when her phone rang, brought it out and waved it in my face in confirmation.
It was in the third month after this first meet that things came undone.
Before then, we tried to do everything together at every chance we got. I had written my Bar exams a month after I met her and in the weeks following it while I waited for the results, I filled my seconds with her. We dined and read together and we were both happy to find that our love for literature and arts were equally matched.
She told me all about her interesting heritage — her parents; dad, Japanese and mom, Nigerian, had met while in America. They were both students at the same university and for whatever reasons, fell deeply in love despite the cultural and racial differences. She told me how her parent’s love showed her what a powerful force love was, one that neither culture nor geographical differences could come against. They were both dead now but the legacy of their love lived on in her and she planned to implant it in her children through her own story.
Years after she walked away from my life, just as abruptly as she walked in, I still thought of her — the moments before the first kiss, and how when our lips finally met, it felt like I had never been kissed like that before, and how every kiss I had erstwhile experienced dulled in comparison to hers. Thoughts about how her nipples went taut underneath my touch each time, and how each time we climaxed together, most times her before me, it felt like a thousand sparks erupted.
The day she left me, the skies were as blue as when I met her. We had arranged to meet at Bogobiri, an African-themed literary restaurant in Ikoyi. It was my first time there but she claimed to be a regular and her claims turned out to be true because when we got there, she seemed to know everyone — the staff, the owners, even the performers.
We settled in quite well, thanks to her, and we were seated in a nice spot despite our lateness on account of her relations with the staff.
It was to be a celebration of some sort. My Bar results were out a few days earlier and I had passed exceedingly well. I had already been offered a position at a reputable firm. My future looked bright indeed and in my head, everything felt right. Here I was, a Barrister with an English degree in love with the most beautiful woman in the world. She looked even more beautiful on that day, her hair styled perfectly, wearing a fitted white pencil gown that showed off curves she denied existed and lips painted with a red lipstick that matched her nail polish.
She caught me looking at her and winked at me.
“What you looking at?” she said, in that manner that meant she knew but still wanted to ask.
“You’re beautiful” and before I could stop myself I mouthed the words I had known for a while now.
“I love you.”
She blanched and the expression on her face was a mixture of shock, confusion and something I couldn’t quite place.
“Dele…. I can’t”, she finally said after what seemed like a decade.
I was momentarily stunned and before I could find the words to express my shock and confusion, she took her purse, and walked out, leaving me in my state of confusion.
The days turned into weeks and then months after that. I called and called and paid several visits to her apartment all to no avail. She neither picked my calls nor opened her apartment to me. I eventually stopped trying when, on one of my visits, I met her at the entrance with a man she introduced to me as her fiancé.
It was a confirmation of some sort to me. I had wondered what went wrong and this, the presence of another man, another lover, was foremost on the list of guesses.
I heard of Nikki no more and I tried to remember life as it was before her. The first few weeks were horrible and each sound of laughter from a colleague or warm hug from another reminded me of her in ways I didn’t expect. I threw myself into my work and was grateful that I had gotten the job just in the nick of time.
A year passed and then two, and while Nikki never reached out to me, I updated myself with her life via social media. I knew via Facebook when she got married and that day after going through the pictures enough times for me to remember every detail of her dress, I drowned my sorrows in a bottle of Jack Daniels.
I knew when she had her first child and on that same day, I was leaving my fourth relationship of the year. I had been dating a fiery lady, with a perfect body and great culinary skills that would capture any man’s heart but not one whose heart belonged infinitely to another.
I went through a couple of women and it seemed that with the end of each relationship, I was convinced that the ass would be bigger and mind deeper in the next, conveniently forgetting that I indeed knew the reason behind my instability. Truthfully, there seemed to be so many perquisites to the surface type relationship I was practicing, (food, good sex, manageable company, etc.) that I was content with not rocking the boat or finding the one.
On the flip side, I was doing well for myself career wise, one of the most successful criminal lawyers of my time and already an associate at the firm I had been working in after law school. I had a house to my name and two flashy cars to myself. I had quickly earned myself the name ‘Dele the Destroyer’ because of the complex cases I took on and always won.
Memories of Nikki dulled over time, and sometimes I went months without thinking of her at all.
Then, just as sudden as she left, she walked back into my life.
We were having a terrible month at the time at the firm. I had lost my first case ever since I started taking on the lead. It was an unfortunate manslaughter case involving a policeman and a lady who was on the way to pick up her children from school. Usually, these kinds of cases don’t interest me but human rights activists had made such a fuss about it that I had felt our firm will do right by handling it.
We went through all the motions, got enough witnesses who testified that the lady was not flouting any traffic rule and the policeman, in an unnecessary and costly use of power, had ordered her out of the car just as she wanted to take a U-Turn. He had claimed the turning was illegal and she had argued that there were no signs indicating that and an argument ensued. This attracted other policemen lurking in corners waiting for their victims and in the on-going scuffle, the woman experienced an asthma attack which led to her death.
It was a tug of war; the media frenzy was crazy, the full force of the women’s society and human rights activists were against the police and government.
It was a case that, under normal circumstances, I would have predicted a win and would have gone on to claim the win but the stakes were high. The Inspector General of Police had just been recently sworn in and was hell bent on proving that the Police force wasn’t filled with corrupt and unfit men.
We lost under circumstances which were still confusing to me and our next plan was to appeal the initial judgment.
I had been going through the briefs from the case when my secretary came in that a woman was waiting for me to schedule an appointment. I asked her to keep her waiting for a few more minutes and make her fill the necessary documents to ascertain the reason behind her visit.
She brought in the forms five minutes later and dropped them on my table for approval. I hurriedly picked up my pen to sign and authorized the secretary to schedule an appointment.
The next day, at about 11.45am, she called me that my appointment for 12 was here. I asked her to usher the person in and I busied myself with work. I knew when someone walked in and without looking up, offered them a seat.
After tidying up bits of work, I looked up and my breath momentarily left me.
It had been four years but she hadn’t changed. She looked just like she did on that first day with clear blue skies at the BRT station. I picked up her form and looked over it again. Nneka Okafor. She was Okoli before, Nneka Okoli.
“Hi”, her voice was still the same.
“Hello”, I replied, standing up and then sitting down because I suddenly felt untidy.
“I left him”.
I could only nod.
This story was first published here