Just like my mother…

There is an (igbo) adage that says ‘if you want to know what a young lady would look like or behave like in old age,  look at her mother’.

I mean this proverb is taken so seriously that it isn’t unusual to hear someone say ‘oh she must be a nice girl.  She comes from a nice family,  her mother is this that that… ‘. This phrase is especially peddled around in marriage conversations and talks.  Even in relation to looks,  it is not unusual to see someone comment on a slim shapely girl ‘when she gives birth she will blow up,  look at her mother.’ (Actually in Nigeria (or at least igbo culture), people’s perception of one’s mother counts for A LOT when it comes to the issue of marriage and respectability) .

Now this is incredibly hilarious and low-key (and very high-key) stressful for girls like me who couldn’t be more polar opposites of their mothers. While my mother seems to age backwards, I am forever looking older than my age, while she is forever stunting with her small petite beautiful body,  I am strongly considering using my first real salary for  weight loss surgery. (I joke ?) but honestly,  it isn’t unusual for my friends to meet my mom and say ‘your mom is so beautiful.  Where are you from?’ Not because I am not beautiful but I am a different kind of beauty – not bad,  just different!

In no way am I more different from my mother than  in the area of household duties.  My mother never gets tired.   She does it ALL. I don’t often admit this because we are constantly in a pettiness war (often very jocular till it turns left) but the past few days,  I have had cause to reflect on just how extraordinary she is.

I have recently started work at a small law firm that resumes each day at 9am and closes at 4pm. This is super relaxed for the standards of most law firms in Nigeria and across the world really.  Yet,  if you saw how exhausted I would act as I would leave the office eh, you would think I am burdened with the entire legal problems of Nigeria. Then when I would make my way to the gym,  any laziness would be blamed on ‘hectic day at work’. Then when I get back home,  I head straight to my room, peel my clothes off my body,  grudgingly take a shower and lie on my bed like I have done the work of 5 bricklayers.

Now this happens to be the time when my mother,  who wakes up most times at 6am, and who the rest of her day finds a reason to be on her feet,  starts running around the house and kitchen.

How terrible it is in a Nigerian household when your almost senior citizen mother is running around the kitchen, and you the young supposedly springy adult is lying around.  The more I interact with my female friends (those who wake up at 6am to make family meals and rush back from work to make sure their parents, especially dads, have something the eat,  the more I am convinced that my mother is more tolerant than most.)

A few days ago especially, I was struck by the relentlessness of my mother. It isn’t often that I notice these things so I was extremely emotional when I did.  I got off from the law firm and went to my parents’ office.  Mom was there packing up to leave at 7pm. I made a show of my exhaustion,  ripped off my wig, opened the fridge and gulped down a full bottle of water.  Then I settled to eat the fruits my father has secured for me during his work day.  My mom at that moment was on her way home.  I waited an extra hour and finally made my way home. I got home tired,  exhausted and generally just ready to bounce on my bed.

I went  to the kitchen to open the fridge to see if there was something else to nibble on,  there was my mother with her 10 hands,  blending carrots and tomatoes,  for drinking,  blending tomatoes for stew,  chopping onions and cooking meat for stew and a pot of soup which she hoped to cook the next morning,  cooking yam and frying egg for her dinner and washing up the mess that accumulated along the way. Already prepared was a pot of bambara nuts pudding (okpa) sitting and cooling. ‘How does this woman do all of this?’ I  imagined, stunned.

I was not only stunned at how she was managing this at this time but was also upset because I knew I couldn’t go back to my room now I had seen her.  I stood in the heat of the kitchen, watching her,  running her errands to bring  crayfish or stockfish or stir the contents of this pot or that pot. Half way into my kitchen sojourns with her, she announced that she had a terrible headache.

I have this joke with my mom that I inherited all of her bad qualities.  Her headache is one of them.  They don’t happen often but when they do,  all you really want to be doing is lying down.  It would feel like there were a million tiny pins pinched into your head and a flaming hammer repeatedly hitting different sections with each movement you make, however purposefully slow the movement is. When she mentioned her headache, I wanted to shout and scream ‘so why are you doing this?  Bothering yourself with this cooking?’ But we had had this argument too many times. I knew you well how it would start and end:

Me: Mom why are you doing this?
Mom: doing what? What will your father and brothers eat if I don’t do this?
Me: The boys are adult. They are grown men they can take care of themselves.
Mom: Take care of themselves is eatting indomie, bread and sardine every night?
Me: Mom. They are adults. LET THEM….
Mom: And what of your father?

She usually won on that because she knew I didn’t have the audacity to continue my line of argument which she very much believed was insane. On days she was particularly upset with me, she would tell me that degrees and career don’t keep a home, to which I would respond that neither does domestic prowess.  On days she was in a particularly good mood, she would look at me with eyes filled with hope and pity and say ‘the man that will marry you must seriously seriously love you’, to which I would burst into laughter because I knew how deeply she meant that as a prayer too. Perhaps it kept her up at night that I might one day, in true Nollywood style, be sent home from my husband’s house because I can’t stand in the kitchen for longer than it takes to slice a watermelon.

I would walk away from our arguments with arrogant pity in my heart. I believed she was the one that signed up for this social construct of the woman having to cook and fend domestically for the family.  She signed up for it and wore it proudly as a badge of honour.  She believed it was her duty to cook for her husband,  her adult children. So I didn’t understand why she wanted to force me to sign up too to this construct.  I believed and always said that no man would be delusional enough to marry me and assume I was the sole cook and cleaner.  We would do it together.  There will be division of labour.  I won’t slave away in the kitchen while he sits comfortably in the sitting room waiting, I would think.

I suspect sometimes when she shouts and gets upset. It isn’t just because of the fact that her only adult female child barely knows her way to the kitchen (not around… I know my way around but barely find my feet taking me in the kitchen direction)  it is to do with the adage at the beginning.  Whoever would look at her would see a woman who loves her family enough to cook every meal they eat,  as well as a beautiful, eloquent and very godly woman.  She must think that somehow she has failed in her duties.  She must think that I would ‘fail’ in my wifely and motherly duties for this reason.  She was afraid for me. It wasn’t about the fact alone that I wasn’t helping out in her own house.

While I was still trying to bite my tongue,  and watch her cook. She brings out a bucket of fresh lemons, goes to join my father in the sitting room and starts manually squeezing them,  to extract the juice. I asked her to use the juicer and she said she preferred to do it manually.  She would eventually go on to add some ginger and keep for my father and brother in the fridge. (My brother has bought the mixture once at a smoothie bar and she decided there was no reason he should when she could do the same at home for him).  She couldn’t understand why he would ‘throw away N700’ like that.

The moment I saw her squeezing the lemons,  I couldn’t contain my anger anymore.  I went upstairs in my exhaustion,  peeled off my clothes and lay down.  While I ruminated on my anger on why my mom was so hyperactive, I realised it was more than a social contract for my mother. This was her way of showing love.  This was her expression of love. My eyes shut, I  heard her voice and my father’s drifting up the stairs,  I I heard her laughter and his laughter intermingled.  A few minutes later the blender went on and I knew she was blending her ginger now.  She came upstairs after a few minutes tray in hand and packed the juices in the fridge. The next morning my brother grabbed a drink while he set out to work and my dad had his with his breakfast.  The next day, while I feasted on my mangoes after my hard days work, she tried to convince me to try the ‘best okro soup’ she had ever made.  She repeated it two or three times and despite my aversion to okro, I promised to eat some.  And yes it was the best danm okro soup  EVER.  And I believe it was for more reasons than the taste of the ingredients.  For the first time,  I could taste the love that went into the meal.  I made a public show of my love for it and went for seconds.  That same night she was busying in the kitchen,  frying stew for the special jollof  rice she would make for her prayer circle.  I stood in the kitchen,  despite my discomfort and stirred the stew with her, licking half the pot of stew in the process and talking with her.

‘Everything tastes and smells  excellent’ I said, stealing a piece of fried chicken. Her eyes twinkled with love and happiness. The next morning while the aroma of special jollof rice wafted up to my room,  I walked over to her and put my arms around her while she stood in the bath tub.

‘Thank you for all you do mama’ I said. She asked me what it was I was thanking her for and her eyes moistened as I rattled off how these past 3 days she had been super human as far as I am concerned.

‘it is my duty. It is my responsibility’ she said, waving me out of the tub. I smiled and walked away.  I knew it was more than her responsibility and duty as a wife.  Perhaps it started as that,  but I am certain that it is love that kept her doing this after 3 decades,  even for her adult children.  It was love that made her go the extra mile in squeezing lemons and bragging about her soup,  trying to convince me to eat.  It was love. Love is often a responsibility.  Love is often a duty.

I still do believe that there will be division of labour when I start my own family. But now I look at my mom through different eyes, not as a woman trapped in the prism of a societal construct or contract but as a woman trapped in the prism of love.  An intensely more potent potion.  I know now that I am extremely blessed to be a recipient of this kind of love.

 

 

 

 


I wrote this sometime in April and hoped to post it on my birthday or on her birthday, but in my mother’s true fashion, she UPSET ME SO MUCH me before that day and I never really got around to it because I wasn’t feeling so grateful  (YES I am an ingrate – I know!!!!) Anyway, it is the end of the year and now is as good a time as to celebrate her as any other day.

For You

Maybe one day the sun would finally decide to take its job seriously, and outshine your smile

But till then, I will bask in the impossibly magnificent brilliance of what happens when your lips part into a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

For you, Elo

FRIENDS

May we find friends who are hard enough to break our shells when we put up walls in the hard times…

May we find friends that carry with them, brightly burning candles to bring warmth and light into our hearts when the blinds are drawn…

May we find friends that hold on steadfastly unto our hands and hearts when grief threatens to make us slip away…

May we find friends that slap us across the face to remind us that giants, warriors and heroes have no business in the dungs of despair and self pity…

May we find friends…

‘Falling’ in Love

I didn’t fall in love with you
I suppose that phrase is an understatement
I didn’t fall in love with you
I somersaulted into love with you

Flipping in the air
Carefree
With abandon
Like little children do
When playing in the rain

I didn’t fall in love with you
I somersaulted into love with you
And without much practice
I landed – not on my feet as the experts do-
But hip first and bottom next
Across the cold hard floor
Of Unrequited Love
Eating the dust of regret.

 

‘Get over yourself! You are not even your husband’s first love!’

first-love-batumi-6photo credit: http://iraklitsuladze.com/portfolio/first-love-batumi-georgia/

I attended a friend’s birthday dinner earlier in the year. This was one of those dinners where there were more ladies than the guys and where there was one enthusiastic married person who took the liberty to match make the few available guys with the single girls.

Before Mr. B arrived, I was having the time of my life. We had been teasing the best friend of the birthday girl about giving the young man sitting next to her a chance. They seemed to have a lot in common, least of which was the fact that they bonded over their unsuccessful attempts at gaining weight no matter how much they ate. I mean, ‘what are the chances of such a bond?’ I chirped from across the table. The birthday girl high-fived me from her seat across the table and her best friend shook her head ruefully at our partnership in embarrassing her. This was a big deal because since we had known the best friend she had been in a constant bid to gain weight. In secondary school, the birthday girl and I, both too chubby for our own good, joined in her quest as we wolfed down huge communal bowls of biscuits and milk, garri and groundnut, cornflaskes and milk, all with unbelievable quantities of sugar. At the end of the term, while the best friend returned to her house skinner, the birthday girl and I returned rounder than when we left our houses. Who would believe our stories of bullying and a stressful academic year?

When it seemed like I was having the best night of my life, despite not wanting to show up to a surprise party I was heavily involved in planning (my extrovert-introvert issues have a way of dealing with me), Mr. B showed up.  Mrs. J, sister to the birthday girl, only married person in our midst and the self-appointed match maker immediately asked Mr. B to sit between me and another girl. I didn’t think anything of this seating arrangement till the tables dramatically turned around and the whole table suddenly agreed that Mr. B and I made a perfect couple.

I am painfully shy and terrible at being the centre of attention and what I didn’t know about this game of hook-ups at the time was that the more you fought it, the more everyone else saw a connection which you couldn’t even glimpse. ‘The secret is to play along, eventually they get bored and leave you alone. The more you squirm, the further they tease you’ Mr. B advised me a few days after the dinner over a telephone call.

‘I mean they actually speak the same way.’ the best friend said in mock thoughtfulness, now so excited at this turn of events.

‘He has a great job at Ikoyi oo’ Mrs. J added.

‘OMA, Mr. B sings, plays the guitar, speaks Spanish and a bit of French’ the birthday girl insisted encouraging her best friend, as this time they burst into laughter at my concentrated effort to focus on the lone slice of cucumber on my empty glass of chapman.

Playing along with the charade, Mr. B, slid his palm into my left palm, leaned over and spoke rapid Spanish or what seemed like Spanish to me. The whole table was agog with excitement. My entire body was hot with embarrassment and a part of me melted on the inside because of my love for proficient speakers of foreign languages. I finally turned to look at this guy. I noticed his light skin baked golden brown by the harsh Lagos sun, his bushy brows sitting beneath the rims of his quirky and misted glasses. He had a smile too, a kind warm but nervous smile and a shy squint in his eyes. I quickly extricated my palm and exclaimed for the 100th time ‘people o I do have a boyfriend’ as I excused myself to go use the bathroom. Immediately I made to stand up, Mr. B stood up and in a flourish,  drew my chair back.

‘Awww and he is a gentleman’ Mrs J announced to the table as I walked away, willing my legs not to give way beneath me.

Outside in the hallway, outside of the bathroom I was accosted by the birthday girl and the best friend.

‘I hate you girls so much’ I said burying my hands in my face.

‘Come on OMA. On a serious note, he is so completely your type’ birthday girl retorted. ‘What exactly don’t you like about him?’ she asked with a look of concern on her face?

‘OMA, seriously I think he is your type and I actually think he likes you’ the best friend encouraged.

It took me a minute to realise that these two girls had no disguise of humour or teasing in the conversation. They actually wanted me to give the guy a chance!

‘OMA, He is a really nice guy o. He is the one I told you drops me off in the evening after MBA lectures. The one I told you lost his wife recently’ the birthday girl said, making me recall a few more personal details which she had shared with me previously concerning this young man. She told me about how he often spoke about her, about missing her and about the kind of things she would have done in certain situations.

‘Hell NO!!!!’ I screamed in disbelieve! ‘No now! With all due respect. No. He seems like a nice guy and all but come on babe!’ I said walking away from both girls I believed had temporarily lost their sanity.

‘No what now?’ birthday girl said swiftly cutting me off in my escape.

‘No now. Babe I want to be my husband’s first love now! If I date this guy, I won’t be his first love.’ I said looking at her with wide disbelieving eyes.

‘See this babe o. I want to be my husband’s first love’ she mimicked me poorly, slapping me carelessly across my arm. ‘Get over yourself abeg! Who said you are anyone’s first love? Chances are that we really are not anyone’s first love. That guy you are talking to now, you are not his first love. You end up with him, you are still not his first love. He is probably not yours too. It is what it is’

I turn away from the birthday girl to her best friend who I hoped would offer a vehement rebuttal because, although best friends, they seemed to disagree on everything.

‘But it is kind of true OMA. I mean, what is the big deal? He married another woman? It is even better you know about it and it is settled. This one you are dating a guy and eventually marry him when deep down in his past he has imagined being married and having children with someone else who isn’t you. What is then the difference?…’

‘ Mr. S is her own first love’ birthday girl chipped in, laughing at an inside joke we girls had shared for years.

‘Mr. T is still this one’s first love, even if she keeps forming bestie, abi big brother with him’ best friend responded quickly at the jab. ‘OMA, seriously what are the chances we actually end up with any of these guys?’

‘ZERO!’ birthday girl said bursting into laughter as they teased each other on the implausibility of getting back with their university sweethearts, although it was an open secret among us that both harbored hopes of same.

‘What is wrong with you girls tonight?’ I remarked, making my way away from their circus. Immediately Mr. B saw us arriving, he was up again, exaggeratedly pulling my chair and this time, I looked at him with very different eyes. I managed a stiff smile and concentrated very seriously on my plate of grilled fish and chips which turned out to be more unsavoury than the hook-up taunts which continued.

I came back from that dinner with the words of two of oldest friends ringing in my head. Who said you are anyone’s first love? Whoever ends up with their first love? The next week, just like there was a giant conspiracy going on around me, the office assistant at my place of work recounted how the past week was a very tough week for him. The company had gone on an exhibition to Igbobi hospital and that was where he lost his first fiancé. Sitting there those two days, he narrated in his pidgin English how he got video replays of every minute they spent together down to the minute he looked over to her in the taxi which rushed them to Igbobi hospital and realised she was gone. ‘Till today, I mark her remembrance. Once that time of the year come, I no fit eat. I just weak.’ He said wielding an incredible amount of power to mask the depth of his pain and to hide his tear glazed eyes.

‘And your wife knows about this?’ I asked wondering how any woman could live through that. I can barely bear the thought of hearing about an ex-girlfriend of anyone I remotely have an interest in.

‘Yes now. She know, around that time she just dey give me space. She know. She understand’ he said trying to convince me, and possibly himself as he walked away to his office.

‘I am sorry. I know this sounds selfish but I don’t want a guy who has that kind of past’ a colleague said, reading my mind, while his feet were barely out the door.

That night, I spoke to another friend about the past days. ‘OMA, but it is true. I mean I once met a girl I was sure I would end up with. I imagined my entire life with her; meeting her family, shopping for furniture in our first house. OMA, I pictured her pregnant, even her swollen feet and inflated hormones, my children tugging at her skin while suckling her breasts. I imagined we would argue a lot because she likes to have her way. She would have wanted the children to attend a private day school but what is the point of secondary school if not spent in boarding house under a senior’s bunk bed catching a pregnant mosquito? I mean, I imagined we would argue a lot, I looked forward to them, I really did. I imagined we would make up and wake up and repeat the same process till we grew old together. A few months into my dreams, she moved on and left me trying to forget her, every day. It has been 4 years now OMA. I don’t know that I can.’

‘You believe she would hold a special place in your heart, possibly over even your wife?’ I asked in a small voice, humbled at this side of my revelation of my ever merry friend’s heartbreak.

‘I think so. If she walks back into my life today, I would have a lot of thinking to do.’ he said, a few seconds of uncomfortable of silence hanging over the line. ‘So I see what your friends mean. I can count several other people who have this same story. We usually hand over to our eventual life partners, residues of our broken hearts and remnants of our shattered dreams’, he concluded very ominously.

‘No wonder you have been ignoring my calls these days. You met the man of your dreams!!!!! Feeling proud’ he finally said between guffaws.

 

The Before

92d6b1e488c29c52dce52ae6c33175a1_best-friends-boy-and-girl-friendship-clipart-girl-and-boy_1137-1300

The Before: the period before we make up our minds; the period before we acknowledge to each other how we really feel;

it is the period of playful flirtation;  the period of quiet painful painful longing for the warmth of the other’s breath over our lips; the period where our eyes seek each other out in a room of 4000 other eyes, the period our eyes the tell stories and betray emotions we are too insecure to voice, the period where our eyes and lips curl into a smile at the probability of that which we just made a reality, at the odds we just beat, in meeting each other’s eyes, in finding each other, in that room, in the world,

it is the period of stares that last a second too long, embraces that add a springing in our steps and soaring in our hearts, it is a period of nervous sweaty hand holding, shamelessly genuine compliments, shameless senseless giggles, senseless tiffs; senseless reasons to touch each other, senseless reasons to do the painfully obvious;

it is the period of insane mind numbing jealousy and uncertainty, a period where we hope to consume each other’s attention and devotion, a period where another’s hand carelessly draped over a shoulder brings the sinking feeling in the well of my belly, a period where we analyse and re-evaluate  every friendship on how it impedes on our status, a  period where we convince ourselves that we must be alone in what we feel, where we try, desperately and hopelessly to move on, with little success and find ourselves back at where we began; back to the period of many daydreams, about first kisses and first anniversaries, and nightmares of rejection and walking away.

It is the period of tentativeness, like a flower in early spring, sensitively opening up our buds, to soak in the warm rays of pleasant sunlight and learning all over to bloom again.

A Red Dress for Valentine’s Dinner

I look listlessly through my wardrobe looking for an appropriate red dress to wear. We have bantered and endlessly poked fun at each other’s concept of romance on whether it was cheesy or not to wear red on February 14.

‘Babe it is like not wanting to wear white on your wedding day. It is tradition.’ Odera would posit.

‘What???!!! They are absolutely not the same.’ I would squeal. ‘And I don’t even want to wear white on my wedding.’

‘Babe my parents are pastors. You are going to have to wear white if you are getting married to me.’ .

‘Who says I am getting married to you?’ I respond, my voice cutting like a sharp kitchen knife.

‘Kemi, you are getting married to me and you will wear a red dress for Valentine’s dinner. And you will love both of these things exceedingly’ Odera would note conclusively, yet his voice playful and cheeky.

‘Hmmm I don’t know about that dress’ Tumi blurts out, peering at me through her thick spectacles. I know she is uninterested in this exercise. We have been friends for over 20 years and even tell people we are sisters. Had Tumi being interested, she would have been the one in front of this wardrobe, pulling out dress after dress, asking me to try it on, to tiptoe across the room to see how it would look on a pair of heels, to turn around so she could see the fitting on my ‘teletubbies ass’ as she called it. Today she is sitting across the room staring at me, throwing off-handed comments at each dress I pull out.

‘I am going to wear this dress’ I say with an air of finality, yet searching her face for some form of approval. She shifts from one buttock to another, crossing one leg over the other.

‘Then I guess my job here is done’ she says, with a wry cold smile.

Tumi hasn’t always been like this concerning my relationship with Odera. In fact when I newly met him, she thought we were perfect for each other. ‘Two spirikoko people have fallen in love.’ She would tease non-stop. She said spirikoko because the year I met Odera, I had just started my one year ‘man fast’ as Tumi called it. The ‘man- fast’ was simply a time I set apart to seek God alone; to not be in a relationship while doing it. ‘No distractions.’ I would tell Tumi who would roll her eyes and laugh at me. During my ‘man-fast’ I fell in love with God, met the Holy Spirit, started speaking in tongues when praying (to the eternal discomfort of Tumi). I also met Odera.

We happened to always sit at the same spot during Wednesday prayer meetings, we always shook hands to welcome each other to the presence of the Lord as the pastor instructed, always held hands to pray in pairs when the pastor instructed we pray in pairs and always bumped into each other while singing and shouting and dancing in church. We got used to each other’s presence. We automatically without meaning to reserved seats for each other in church. People reserved those seats for us too because no matter how late we were for Wednesday prayer meeting, those two seats by the door, near the banner quoting John 14:27 stood.

It was my favourite verse in the Bible so I always sat there. When I met Odera, I sat there because of him and because of that sign too. He was the perfect  prayer meeting seat partner. I just liked that he wasn’t one of those who prayed loudly and feverishly when the pastor asked us to bring our requests to God, but their voices dwindled when asked to pray for their neighbour or Nigeria. I noticed that he maintained an even tempo whether he prayed for Nigeria or Syria, whether he prayed for himself or a random stranger. ‘He is a great prayer meeting seat partner Tumi.’ I said and the next Wednesday, my devout Catholic and Pentecostal skeptic Tumi came to with my very Pentecostal speaking in tongues, laughing in the Holy Ghost church.

‘You are deceiving yourself. That guy likes you, and you like him too’ she had declared after her second week visiting. And from then, each Wednesday she took special interest in what I wore to work; because she knew I would go straight to prayer meeting after work.

‘Kemi, you know you can’t wear that today’ Tumi would say shuffling past me, to our shared wardrobe.

‘Why can’t I?’ I would say in frustration.

‘Because!’ She would respond as if that was supposed to mean something, as if the word because was something other than a preposition.

Odera, after months of sitting next to each other, started walking me to my car.  He never really asked me out during my year of seeking God. But he did little things that led me to believe he was interested; he walked me to my car, asked more questions about me, my work, my family, my faith and why I liked the seats by the door. He also told me about himself. He told me things about himself; his ambitions, his challenges, family secrets I would never have found out even if I set a private investigator on him. When I would say ‘why are you telling me all this?’, he would shrug and respond ‘I don’t plan on telling them to you really. It just happens’.

Odera finally asked me out after 17 painfully long months. Painfully long because even if for a whole year I was on the ‘man fast’ somehow I just wanted to know that he liked me as more than a prayer partner, I wanted Tumi to be completely right about him, about us. The other 5 months were long too but I had given up hope on him liking me. I friend-zoned him and started calling him my best friend. We started meeting outside of church, we enjoyed each other’s company, he visited me as often as I visited him. Most Wednesdays’ I didn’t have to drive to work; Tumi would drop me off at work – never mind the inconvenience of driving from Victoria island (our home) to Lekki (my office) and back to Victoria island (her office). Odera would appear at 6pm to pick me from work and we would head to church together and he would bring me back home; sit for hours and listen to Tumi tease him, tease us about our status and then drive back at around 11pm.

When he finally asked me out during one of our drives to church on a Wednesday. I readily said yes and asked him what took him so long. ‘So long? So you had been waiting for long?’ he asked chuckling, his eyes narrowing flirtatiously.

‘Kemi all I am saying is that you guys have been dating for 7 years now. You are putting a hold on your life for this guy. You know sometimes love isn’t enough right? Sometimes common sense has to come to play’ she says twirling her engagement ring round her ring finger.

‘Tumi, I told you we have talked about this. Odera and I have talked about this. We want him to be done with his specialist residency programme and then….’

‘Is that what you want or what Odera says you guys should do? Because while we were serving at NYSC 6 years ago, you were sure you wanted to be having your second and final child by 2018. Now 2017 Valentine’s Day you are picking out a red dress again to wear on a Valentine’s Skype date.’ She said, sarcasm dripping from her lips

‘But that is the thing Tumi. Life doesn’t always give us what we plan for. Odera is a human being too. He had his plans and ultimatums before meeting me too. But we have had to adjust and make compromises. Yes I wouldn’t be having my last kid by 2018. Hell, I might not even get married by 2018, but I am at peace with the situation. You didn’t plan on having two kids for your fiancé before marriage- that wasn’t in your plans but yet that was the card that life dealt you. And you are dealing with it. What is the big deal that I am having a Skype Valentine’s date?’ You used to think this was the coolest cutest thing Tumi’ I say without stopping to catch my breath.

‘I thought it was cool, in 2013 when it started. He was a student, trying to get a job. He couldn’t afford coming back for Valentine’s Day. It was cute and romantic then. And 4 years down the line now, he has a good well-paying job. He is an American citizen, so there are no visa limitations. So I don’t see this as cute or romantic anymore. It is just a bit cheap. Sorry but it is cheap’ she repeated looking at my tear glazed eyes.

‘You don’t get it’ I say, tasting the saltiness of my own tears.

‘Enlighten me please Professor! Please enlighten me!’ she says derisively.  ‘You are in a 7 year relationship and for the past 4 years you get to see him once a year. You celebrate every major milestone over the phone and over Skype. And you are 28. Not 20 when long distance is considered cute.’

‘Having 2 kids to convince your boyfriend to put a ring on your finger is not cute either. And yet here you are!’ I mutter, wrapping a towel around me and heading into the shower, without waiting for a response.

I emerge from the shower and I am surprised to see Tumi still sitting across the chair, staring at the spot I was standing, like her eyes had never left that spot. I slip on the red dress in an awkward silence. Tumi was here to help me with my makeup but she has gotten into this her judgemental all-knowing mood. I was sure I didn’t want her touching my face while in the mood. I sit by the make-up stool and try to decide what goes where. Tumi sits still and peers at my confusion. ‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’ she shouts, frightening me.

I hear the sound of her shuffling feet as she connects her phone to the speakers and Tu face’s African Queen swallows the awkward silence. She moves her hips and sings along. ‘You are my African queen’ she sings, touching my chin affectionately and wielding a brush expertly over my face. I watch her face in the mirror as she worked. She is singing gingerly, moving her hips this way and that. There was a tear stain too on her face underneath her glasses. ‘Why was she crying?’ I wonder shaking my head at her how dramatic she is.

‘Stop shaking’ she orders, holding a sharp  kohl under my eyelashes, drawing a straight line into rim of my eyes.