Previously published Unilag Lex Observer
Mother said there were two kinds of ways you could fall flat on your face.
“Running”, she said between tears as she diced onions. Her apron was scruffy, not because it hadn’t been soaked and scrubbed in Omo several times, but because it was as old as time. She caught up the left side of her bottom lip in an embrace with her yellowing incisors before she continued. “When you run forward, you can fall flat on your face”. She didn’t look at me once as I minded my business by the sink, scrubbing harder than necessary, the already white beans for moin-moin. “When you run backwards, you can also fall flat on your face”.
She turned to me and met my stare, her knife still firmly in her hands. She wore on a sheepish smile. I kept scrubbing hard at my beans, nervous. “Did you know that, Iretiola?” she said. “Did you know you could fall flat on your face running backwards?” She placed her hands akimbo, smiling as her cheeks watered with the tears that waltzed down. “Amazing, isn’t it?”
I didn’t nod, I didn’t move. My fifteen year old self just stared intently at her, trying to understand the depth of her words, if any. I didn’t understand. To me, it was all blabbing, all bla’s and bla’s.
It was on the 6th of September that I first saw him in ten years. I held the date to my heart because the day seemed like one of those lovely voices caught in the wind, the ones that came merely a whisper and dissolved as moisture with the speed of light. Dates were that important to me. Like his birthday. I already knew his birthday was 26th of June, 6 days down from mine, I’d stalked his Facebook as I wanted to be sure that fate had clearly brought us together for a reason.
It definitely had. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have a story to tell.
I was literally gaping when I saw him at the mall in Adebayo Doherty road Lekki. I do not remember now if I’d been drooling. But my lush lips had been wide apart. How time had been on his side! He made me aware of the invisible greys in the corners of my hair. He on the other hand was hot—and yes, smoking hot. He had a well-chiseled jaw and finely-carved cheeks that revealed beautiful dimples when he smiled. A mass of hair decorated his head on which his shades rested. I could see the steam all around him as he bounced towards me that day, clad in army pants and a grey vest that exposed his muscles. He wore on a smug grin that sent my heart running a treadmill. “Loose the freaking weight. Loose it.”
I mentally tried to remember what I looked like in the mirror, tucking in my weave behind my ears, and hoping it wasn’t a bad eyebrow day.
I was going to duck my face behind an aisle and let him leave without seeing me but he had turned one-eighty degrees and spotted me. I marveled at how he recognized me, since I appeared to have aged twenty years since his grandparents’ wedding anniversary that Christmas, ten years ago. I’d swallowed hard, managed a smile and wove at him.
“Thomas!” I screamed in my most thrilled voice.
“Little”, he bawled back at me, a nickname he and my brothers had called me since I could reminisce. Being the last born, they naturally didn’t see why they should call me Iretiola.
Our mothers had been friends since their childhood days; it was a natural consequence that he was my friend too. He hugged me and I felt myself melting in his hot embrace.
Dayyuum Ire, get yourself together!
The principal thing I saw after we untangled from our encirclement was the fact that he didn’t have a wedding band on.
My heart basically got off the treadmill and did a shoki dance. ahhhhhhh shoki
I was immediately infatuated with him. I was a moth, he was the flame.
You can’t tell me seeing him is a twist of fate; too evident that this is destiny reaching out to us.
We swapped good-natured remarks, made small talk and decided to meet at a literary reading the next evening. Does he love what I love or what??
The query easily became Does he love me or what???
I found myself overworked the next evening, and every other time we arranged to meet, over what I was to wear. I was usually a girl of sweat pants and tank tops. Now I was Cinderella and he was my prince.
This prince is yours baby.
He always had this soothing and refined tranquility in his eyes. I found myself plummeting in their depth, getting so lost in them, I never wanted to lose grasp of their embrace with mine. So half the time, I found myself blabbing shit. Plain shit.
But the jumpiness vanished after a while, the way the rainbow leaves after the rain or the way night steals up on an already dark evening. Pecks and hugs still made my heart host a party in my insides with the thousand butterflies now gathered there. They would wine and dance at my expense.
I never for once doubted that he loved me. Though he had never for once said it, saying ‘I love you’ would not have made a difference. I knew he did. I had already made my wedding vows in our head, writing something about; he first loved me when he saw me.
By Day 14, I had settled on how our children would look like. I had been at the library where I hosted a book club for children on Saturdays. I day-dreamed, my eyes sleepily hovering over my ten-year-olds, that our children would resemble English babies- Prince George precisely. He was light-skinned, I was chocolate. But our children would be light-skinned. They would have curly long hair and be chubby and soft; a girl and a boy, Thomas Junior and Eleanor. I giggled, resuming reality as the children raised their noses from their books and stared at me piercingly.
I’d already made enquiries about my ideal wedding venue and its availability. I had started to search for sample wedding dresses online.
We went out on exciting dates, did exhilarating stuff together, nothing too intimate. He introduced me to his friends but he never tagged me anything, and this I told myself, was a good sign. So, on the 20th day of our romance, I decided to step it up a notch. I invited him over to my place. I wanted us, over an exquisite dinner, to define our relationship. We never got around to having that dinner. I had cooked Poundo Yam and vegetables, the aroma wafting around my apartment. He stepped in, commented on how beautiful my apartment looked, and how good the food smelt. He even asked if I could do the interior decoration of his apartment.
“I’d have to check with her though” he said “but I’ll get back to you”.
My brain snapped at that pronoun ‘her’. I wondered who her was, but I naturally thought, housekeeper or his sister or a female roommate (I didn’t mind that, anything but a girlfriend). I’d rather make assumptions than ask.
He got an urgent call that made him leave in a rush, with promises to be back some other time. I was all smiles, when usually, I would be angry about my wasted time and energy.
At a make-up dinner some days after, he brought out a ring.
“What’d you think of this Iretiola?” It was the first time he’d used my name in like forever. This must be a proposal.
My heart froze.
I assessed it quizzically “50 carats? Awesome” My insides were giddy and reverberating with joy. I didn’t care that the proposal was coming way too soon in our relationship. We were meant to be.
He smiled, “try it on” he slipped it on my ring finger and my whole body trembled and vibrated with joy. I waited for the question to come. He shouldn’t assume I would marry him without a proper proposal. It was a bit loose. “I guess I’ll have to have it fitted” he continued “she’s about your size”. He retrieved the ring and I spilled my champagne.
“Who?” I asked before I could caution myself.
“Bolanle my fiancée na” he said.
“Haven’t I told you about her?”
I still don’t know how I didn’t get up to strangle the life out of him. He even showed me a picture on his iPhone and I didn’t smash it. She was strikingly beautiful. I was jealous.
“I want you to meet her” Thomas said smiling, oblivious to my feelings “I will tell her my awesome baby sister wants to meet her”
I had felt so faint, I wanted the ground to swallow me. How could he think me a sister? After all the intimate stuff we’d done in my head?
I wondered silently if I’d ever made it obvious that to me, we were more than siblings from different parents because he was definitely more than that to me.
That day, with no intention to ever do anything fun with him again, I’d wondered if there had been any misrepresentation on his part. I tried very hard to remember the stuff I’d learnt from Contract about five years back.
I remembered that misrepresentation was a false statement of fact or law which induces the other party to enter into the agreement. There was innocent, negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation. There was the thing about silence not constituting misrepresentation but there were exceptions. There didn’t seem to be any misrepresentation on his part, but then, how would I know. If I had only listened well in Dr. Sanni’s class, then I would be able to spot a similarity between my situation and the vitiating element.
Maybe I was losing my mind comparing it to contract.
Then I remembered mother’s words, ten years ago. “There are two ways a man can fall on his face”
I shook my head, concluding that mother had been wrong. There were more than two ways. Sometimes, you could just push yourself flat on your face. That was where I was now. Flat on my face.