It took all my acting skills and then some to maintain the congenial, or so I hoped expression on my face as I sat across the table from my wife’s cousin.
I’d questioned my judgement in deciding to have a preliminary interview with Toni a few times since our discussion began about twenty minutes earlier. I knew I should have stuck with my initial decision that there was no way someone with such an entitled mentality could work at ZanTech, the company I founded with my partner six years ago.
Anyhow, I shrugged inwardly, it was still better that I was the one who’d had to put up with the clueless responses that Toni had given to the questions I’d asked him rather than have him shredded to bits by the formal interview panel at ZanTech.
“So since this job is within the family,” Toni said. “I know you won’t mind me pursuing my business by the side. My friends and I are thinking of starting a boating club and we’re at the stage where we’re actively looking for clients.”
Who on Earth said such things to a potential employer, I asked myself bemusedly as he went on. Maybe he didn’t even consider me an employer. I was probably just his cousin’s husband.
“Because of that, I can only do a half-day on Thursdays and Fridays because those are the days we plan to do some networking in clubs and recreation centres—” Toni paused as my intercom buzzed.
I was grateful for the interruption because I’d just about had enough of him. “Excuse me, please,” I said, before connecting the call.
“Sophie is here, Yomi,” Desola, my PA told me.
“Oh, great. Send her in,” I replied. “This will take just a few minutes,” I told Toni as my door opened and the Head of Advertising walked in.
Toni swiveled round slightly in his chair and I was almost embarrassed by the way his eyes roved over Sophie like she was a tasty dish he’d like to devour.
“Sorry to bother you, Yomi,” Sophie said after she had said a polite hello to Toni. “But I thought I’d quickly pop in now so I can start implementing any adjustments you want as soon as possible.”
Sophie and I went over the video of the new advert ZanTech wanted to launch in the media about its new app. I liked what she and her team had come up with but I wanted more emphasis on the advantages the customers stood to benefit from the product. We were offering an app that would be a lot quicker for all sorts of local and international monetary transactions, a higher interest rate for our customers, seamless connection between buyers and sellers, ability to buy and trade in stocks and a lot of other benefits.
Potential customers definitely needed to know about these features and the skit had to communicate the message effectively.
A satisfied smile curved my lips as I remembered the very first app that ZanTech had built. It had been a huge success but its features were basic compared to what we were about to launch now.
As we talked, I could see Toni practically leering at Sophie from my peripheral vision.
“Okay, Yomi. I’ll let Bayo know.” Sophie closed her laptop after we finished. “It’s Bayo’s first skit for ZanTech and I’m sure he’ll soon get how we operate.”
“I hope so.” We were planning to launch a couple more products over the next few months and we needed someone who would get the image we wanted to project really quickly.
That thought took my mind back to Toni. The guy clearly didn’t understand what ZanTech was about and it appeared his familiarity with me would prevent him from making any serious effort to do so. I glanced at him and caught the wink he sent Sophie’s way as she looked in his direction.
Sophie looked taken aback, and then miffed. She glanced almost involuntarily towards me, as if she was checking to see my reaction to Toni’s behavior.
“Send me the updated skit as soon as it’s ready, Sophie,” I said quickly to break up the awkward moment. “I can’t wait to get this whole media thing going.”
“The meeting with the front-end developers is still as scheduled this afternoon, isn’t it?” Sophie asked.
“Yep. I feel we need to have another session before we push from staging to production.” I was very impressed with how interactive and engaging the developers had made the app. The loading speed and the responsiveness of the links were amazing. I could hardly wait for reviews from users.
“I’ll be there, Yomi.” She tossed a cold look at Toni before making her way towards the door.
I turned my attention back to Toni. He looked completely unfazed. Rather, a lazy smile curved his lips.
“Whoa, you sure have some pretty girls here,” he told me. “From your lovely PA to this bombshell that just came in. I’m definitely going to like working here.”
“That brings me to what I was about to say, Toni.” I kept my tone light but maintained eye contact with him. “We’re not really looking to employ anyone at the moment. Maybe at some point later in the year or sometime next year, but we have no vacancies at the moment.”
It was his turn to look taken aback. “Oh, but Auntie Laide said you’ll definitely have something for me,” he said, referring to my mother-in-law. “She said she had spoken to you about it.”
“Yes, she did but I didn’t tell her I’d offer you a job,” I said firmly. “So like I said, I’m afraid we’re not looking to hire anyone at the moment.”
He didn’t look pleased at my statement. “I’ll let Auntie Laide know then.”
His eyes met mine and the subtle threat I saw in them only served to make me more determined never to let him anywhere near ZanTech. He obviously knew about my relationship with my in-laws and knew that my mother-in-law dictated many things that happened in my home. That was probably why he had been so nonchalant all through his discussion with me. That attitude was also likely going to carry-over into his dealings with other staff too.
My partner, Ifeanyi, and I had built ZanTech from scratch and I was not going to let Toni or anyone else mess up my business. It was high time my wife’s family also knew there were boundaries they had to respect when it came to ZanTech.
When my mother-in-law’s call came barely thirty minutes after Toni left my office, I knew he must have reported to her. I regretted the decision to see him all over again. I should have just told my mother-in-law right from the beginning that I didn’t have a position for him. But I’d wanted to play nice. I’d also thought that the several months that Toni had spent in the job market after being sacked from his previous job would have sobered him up a bit. But that was obviously not the case.
I looked down at my phone which was still ringing and debated whether to pick it or not. I chose not to. I knew my mother-in-law disliked having her plans thwarted and talking with her right now was bound to put me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.
I half-expected my wife’s call afterwards and was relieved when she didn’t call. Reni knew Toni well and hopefully, supported my decision not to employ him. That would be a very welcome change.
I rubbed my palm wearily over my forehead as I thought of my strained relationship with my wife. That almost seemed like the norm now and I wondered how we could bridge the gap that had grown between us. I’d toyed with the idea of us going for marriage counselling a few times but had discarded it at the last minute because it seemed rather extreme. Moreover, I felt we could still work around our issues.
A rap sounded on my door and I knew it was my PA before she pushed the door open.
“Yomi, your meeting with Vantax is in twenty minutes,” Desola said as she walked in, a steaming mug of coffee balanced in one hand and her iPad in the other. She placed the mug on my table and walked towards the fridge. “Thought you could have a quick snack before you go off.” She brought out a pack of my favorite crackers, placed four on a plate and put it beside the coffee. “The last meeting took longer than expected and this should tide you over till lunchtime.”
“Thanks, Desola.” I’d not had time for breakfast and suddenly realized how hungry I was. I took a sip of the coffee. It tasted divine and I smiled gratefully at her before taking a bite out of one of the crackers. As usual, Desola had known just what I needed.
A slight smile curved her lips. “You’re welcome, Yomi.”
“By the way, I haven’t seen Kiki all morning,” I said, referring to the other admin staff.
“I was going to tell you about that. She called in sick this morning. She was actually admitted at the hospital yesterday evening but she’s back home now. Her doctor is concerned about some complications with her blood pressure and advised that she be placed on bed rest for some days.”
“Oh. I hope she feels better soon.” Kiki had been with ZanTech before she got married. I’d been delighted when I learned from Desola that she was pregnant. But even though I was happy for her husband and her, it had also been a painful reminder that I was yet to have a child. “Please send flowers on behalf of the office.”
“I’ll do so, Yomi.” Desola flipped open her iPad and began to run me through the rest of my itinerary for the day.
Reni’s pace as she walked from the driveway to the front door spelled trouble. My wife never hurried when walking. She preferred to take measured steps— shoulders back, head held regally high and the half-smile, half-smirk expression she wore like a badge on her face. The “Queen Reni strut” as her friends dubbed it. The strut that had both amused and excited me at the beginning of our relationship.
But she was definitely not strutting now and I knew the reason. Her mum or her cousin must have told her about the interview. The way she barely acknowledged the greeting from our security man, and also declined him helping her with her bags also told me something was wrong. Reni for all her uppity ways was always cordial with our domestic staff.
She had barely come into the house before she laid into me. My explanations that my business was quite different from her mum’s only served to infuriate her some more.
“Don’t patronize me, Yomi,” she snapped. “I know you feel that you’re now a business guru, but my mum has been in business long before you!”
“That does not give your mum the right to dictate what happens in my office.” I was disappointed that my wife could not understand what I was trying to say. But then again, that was so typical of her. Reni was a strong woman, but it was amazing what a pushover she was when it came to her mother’s dictates. I’d already realized how wrong I was to have assumed she’d understand my decision not to employ Toni. “Your mum already does that in our home and now she wants to extend it to my office?” I continued. “Look, Reni, I’m fed up with all her interference! In fact, if she’s that concerned about Toni, she can offer him a job in her spa.”
“How dare you speak about my mum like that?” Reni’s eyes flashed angrily at me. “How dare you, Yomi?”
“Like I said, I’m tired of her interference and I hope this incident will communicate to her that I’ll not be pushed into making decisions just because she says so.”
“Aha, I knew there was something behind your refusal to hire Toni! You are indirectly trying to pass my mum a message, aren’t you?”
I wished with all my heart that her mum could indeed get my message. I was tired of her manipulation and influence over my marriage. “There’s no vacancy in my office,” I maintained.
“Then you create a job for him, Yomi! After all, it’s my mum asking you to do so! The same woman who sponsored your master’s degree programme in England!”
“Did she sponsor my education so she could control me?” I’d heard that reminder too often and I was sick of it. “Maybe that’s why she thinks my home is an extension of hers! Maybe that’s also why she’s failed to recognize that you’re married!”
“Does marriage mean bondage? Answer me, Yomi, does marriage mean bondage?”
Her question beggared belief because as far as I was concerned, I was the one in bondage and it had been that way for several years. “You don’t want a husband but a puppet, Reni.” I deliberately kept my voice cool, knowing how much my calmness infuriated her during her temper outbursts. “A puppet that you and your mum can manipulate.”
“I’ve warned you not to speak about my mum like that!”
Her phone which was sitting on a nearby side table rang at that moment. Still glaring at me, she reached for it, but miscalculated the distance and only managed to dislodge it with her fingers. She watched in horror as the phone slipped from her hand towards the marbled floor.
It was the latest iPhone which she had just gotten a few days earlier. She had wanted a particular cover for it which she had already ordered, but it was yet to arrive.
She lunged awkwardly as she tried to catch the phone but was unsuccessful and hit her side against the furniture in the process. The phone clattered to the floor and I knew from the impact, that the screen would surely have cracked. But my focus was back on Reni as she bent over in pain.
“Ah!” She yelped as she held on to her side.
“Are you okay?” I bent towards her as I saw her face contorted in pain. “Reni, are you okay?”
“Get your hands off me!” She bellowed. “Get those hands off me!”
If she could still scream like that, she couldn’t be that hurt, I comforted myself. But I watched anxiously as she leaned against the dining table, still holding on to her side. I proffered a hand again to help but she slapped it away as she straightened up.
An unpleasant feeling of déjà vu swept over me as Reni berated me. The sight of the cracked screen of her new phone appeared to heighten her anger. But I barely heard anything she said as it suddenly dawned on me that things were never going to change between us. I also knew that I’d had enough.
I grabbed my keys and headed for the front door. There was no point staying in the house because from experience, I knew it was going to be hell all night.
I drove around aimlessly for a while. At some point, I toyed with the idea of going to a friend’s house but I discarded it. I didn’t want to talk with anyone about what had just happened. Moreover, I was tired of always being the one with one kind of drama or the other going on in his home.
Nah, I’m going to sort this out my way.
About an hour later, I checked into a hotel in Victoria Island. Before I arrived, my phone had rung several times and I wasn’t surprised to see from the caller ID that it was my mother-in-law. My lips curled bitterly. I’d known it wouldn’t take much time for Reni to run to her mother.
I sat back on the settee in the room and closed my eyes. My head throbbed and I wished I had some painkillers. I thought of calling the reception to ask them for some, but I could not muster the strength to reach for the phone.
“How long can a man continue like this?” I sighed as my mind travelled down memory lane.
I met Reni when we were both undergraduates at the University of Lagos. For me, it was love at first sight when I happened upon the dainty, caramel-complexioned girl in the library. She had been sitting on the same table as I was and I had seen from her expression that she was struggling with her assignment. There had been several muttered hisses as she glared at her work and there were times she looked like she wished she could toss the books in the bin. I’d looked across at the titles of the textbooks and realized they were all math-related.
I was an engineering student and math was a subject I found very interesting. I’d actually wanted to study it as a major but decided engineering would offer me more flexibility in the job market. Coming from the kind of impoverished background as I did, I could not afford to do a course that would limit my job opportunities because I needed to get gainful employment immediately after school so I could help my mum out financially.
I’d kept stealing glances at Reni even though her outfit, hairdo and the faint fragrance of her perfume convinced me that she was someone way out of my league.
“Can I help you?” I’d finally asked the petite beauty, unable to help myself. “It seems like you’re having a bit of a problem with that,” I said as I pointed to her books.
“I hate math,” she had sighed mournfully. “I had no clue I’d have to do it mandatorily this year otherwise I’d never have chosen this course.”
“Can I have a look at it?” I’d replied. “By the way, my name is Yomi.”
“Reni Ade-Benson,” she had replied.
Even the name had sounded musical in my ears. A name fit for a beautiful princess.
Of course, I’d found the assignment easy and I’d taken my time to explain it to her. By the time we were done at the library, we had exchanged phone numbers. Our relationship started a few weeks later.
Reni was beautiful and fun, and I was not surprised to find out that I was just one of her many admirers. She also came from a very wealthy family. On the other hand, I came from very humble roots. I’d lost my father very early in life and my mum barely managed to sustain both of us with the meagre salary from her teaching job. But despite Reni’s many admirers and my nearly-always-broke status, she had agreed to be my girl.
Although I had very little in the way of worldly possessions, God had endowed me with good brains and that came in handy when I got to know Reni. I began to tutor her and gradually, her grades improved.
Our relationship soon drew the interest of her mum who was delighted with Reni’s improved grades even though she wasn’t exactly pleased with Reni’s choice of a boyfriend. But when she saw how determined Reni was to carry on with our relationship, she grudgingly gave her approval.
Grudgingly given or not, I was thrilled that her family had accepted a guy from my kind of background and that made Reni even more precious to me.
Things became really tough for me in my final year at Uni. The school my mum taught in had financial issues and had been unable to pay her wages for several months. I did the few odd jobs I could find but they were not enough to pay my fees and sustain me in school.
When Reni’s mum got to know about the situation, she offered to pay my fees. Reni was also scheduled to go abroad for her master’s and her mum paid for me to do a programme in the same university too. I knew her decision was majorly due to the fact that she wanted me to keep an eye on Reni in England. Reni had gotten born again the same time I did which was about a year after we started dating but she still struggled with keeping a straight head particularly when she was in the company of her friends.
I’d looked out for Reni all through our stay in England. She was my very own princess and I treated her as such. We were very much in love—or should I say—I was very much in love, and that had blinded me to how different our temperaments were.
Reni was hot-tempered and would throw a tantrum if she didn’t get her way. I did my best to cope with her temper outbursts, and since she always went out of her way to show how sorry she was afterwards, I decided to overlook them. The second thing I quickly discovered was how much influence her mother wielded over her. Reni would reschedule or totally cancel any plans we had at the last moment if her mother said so.
The excuse she gave for her attitude was that her mum had been there for her all her life.
“My dad paid my bills but my mum raised me,” she often told me. “I have to be there for her now that she’s all alone.”
Her parents were divorced but her mum was far from being alone. In fact, judging from the social functions she attended that were regularly reported in magazines, I’d wondered how she coped with the many friends she had. Besides running several businesses, she also came from a very supportive closely knit family unit. After studying the situation for a while, I’d come to the conclusion that Reni’s mum wasn’t lonely but just enjoyed having her daughter at her beck and call.
My position was further strengthened when I saw how much Reni’s twin brothers shielded their families from Reni’s mum. One of them had even joked with me about it and had more or less told me to do same.
But I had found out that it was easier said than done. Reni was too attached to her mum and I had learnt from experience that the path of peace was to avoid trying to alter that paradigm.
However, I had foolishly hoped that the dynamics would change after we got married but it had been the reverse. Her mum showed absolutely no regard for my opinion when it came to her demand on her daughter’s time. As for Reni, her mother’s word was law.
In hindsight, I believe Reni’s mum paid my fees because she wanted me to remain under her thumb. To be too grateful for her benevolence to ever question her control over my wife and our marriage.
My phone rang again, the sound jarring my already strung-up nerves and intensifying my headache. I glanced down at it. It was dear mother-in-law again. I put the phone on silent mode before shoving it into one of the drawers in the bedside table. I massaged my throbbing forehead with my fingers, wishing I’d stopped by a pharmacy for some painkillers before coming to the hotel.
Pain was an emotion I should be used to, anyway, I thought cynically as I reached for the phone. My darling beautiful wife had made sure of that.
“Hello, this is room 402,” I said to the receptionist when she picked the phone. “Can I have some painkillers sent to my room, please?”
She reeled off the names of the over-the-counter painkillers they had, and I opted for paracetamol.
“Someone will bring it up in a few minutes, sir,” she told me.
I thanked her and continued massaging my forehead as my thoughts returned to Reni.
After our programmes in England, we returned back to Nigeria. I was employed immediately by KPMG while Reni chose to start her own business. I’d always been fascinated with the stock exchange and I started trading in stocks while I worked my regular job at KPMG. Thankfully, I made some good money from stocks and I partnered with a friend to start ZanTech. Finally, I was coming into my own and of course, the only woman I wanted by my side was Reni.
We got married in a lavish affair that was featured in several society magazines and popular blogs. Both our businesses grew after our wedding and we were very happy, until we were not.
Reni was back in the same town with her friends and they seemed hell-bent on resuming their nightclubbing and partying ways. They were delighted when popular blogs and magazines featured them and that seemed to fuel their partying ways some more.
I tagged along a few times just to make Reni happy but the artificiality of it all soon began to grate on my nerves and I stopped. My business was growing and I felt I could put my time to better use than crawling through popular night clubs every weekend.
I also didn’t like Reni’s friends but she insisted she couldn’t live without them. Unknown to her, some of her darling friends had made passes at me on more than one occasion, yet my wife clung to them like glue.
Cracks soon began to appear in our relationship. Reni and I constantly fought. She insisted she didn’t want a baby for at least three years which was a reversal on what we had agreed on before we got married. But she wanted a live-in maid before we were three months married. She also insisted we live in an upscale part of town before we could comfortably afford it. When I protested, my mother-in-law told me she would handle the bills.
Oftentimes, Reni and I attended church after we had just fought and of course, the message preached would be lost on me because I would be too mad at the perfectly made-up, fashionably dressed woman beside me. Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure I was a Christian anymore.
But all that was about to end, I told myself grimly. There was so much a man could take and I had tried my best. I was done with my marriage and it was time to cut my losses and move on.
I was going to call a divorce lawyer as soon as I got to the office the next morning.
I knew they’d had another fight as soon as I saw Yomi. I also knew he was not coming from home. My boss was always on point with his dressing and he didn’t quite look all put together today in the trouser and rumpled shirt ensemble he had on.
He actually looked like he had slept in his clothes and my heart ached for him, and at whatever his wife had put him through again.
I disliked Reni; I could not help it. It wasn’t just the fact that she was married to the man I was in love with, it was because of the way she treated him. The way she abused him.
“My meeting with Optracom is still as scheduled, isn’t it?” Yomi asked after we had exchanged pleasantries.
“Yes, it is.” I eyed his outfit again and I was convinced he had not slept at home. Optracom was one of our biggest clients and Yomi always dressed the part for such meetings. But he definitely didn’t look that way right now. “There are also a couple of meetings scheduled after that.”
My workaholic boss actually sighed. The guy was tired even before the day had properly begun. I hated on Reni all over again.
“Okay, Desola, thanks,” he said, before walking into his office.
It was my turn to sigh after he had gone. Why had he gotten it so wrong? How did he meet that woman from hell?
Reni was beautiful, no doubt. She was doll-like and petite in that way that probably aroused protective instincts in men. But that look was deceptive because the woman was five-feet, four-inches of fire. She dressed to dazzle and was always in a cloud of some exotic perfume. She smelled like heaven but dished out hell depending on her mood. Whenever she appeared in the office, her expression would tell me what she was planning to do to Yomi, and then I’d have to deal all day with the bad mood she had created.
I sighed again as I reached for the phone to call the store at the mall where Yomi got his clothes from.
“Ah, Desola, I know my day is going to be good since you’re the first person calling this morning,” Obinna the store manager said after we had exchanged greetings.
“I hope you’re going to give me some good service.”
“Of course I will.” I could hear the smile in his voice. “That’s why you are my oga at the top nau.”
I smiled. “I need you to send one of your boys to me with some shirts and matching ties for my boss ASAP.” I told him.
I told him what colors I wanted. Yomi was wearing a pair of navy blue dress pants and I wanted shirts that would go with that color. He didn’t have a suit on but he could do without that if the shirt and tie were right. He was also wearing dress shoes and they looked okay.
“I’m on it,” Obinna replied. “I’ll send someone down soon.”
True to his word, the shirts and ties were with me an hour later and I made a quick selection—a sky-blue, button-down shirt and a navy blue, silk tie with tiny grey spots. But there was another combo I couldn’t pass up, and I took those as well.
“I ordered these for you,” I said, going into my boss’ office after Obinna’s boy had left. I laid the shirt and tie on the table before placing the bag with the other shirt near the filing cabinet. “That Optracom guy is a fussy dresser and we don’t want to distract him by not being on point ourselves.”
Yomi’s eyes met mine for a moment and then he smiled. That smile started a chorus in my heart. Seriously, Yomi’s smile could charm an Eskimo to abandon the North Pole to come live in Nigeria. It was boyish and manly at the same time. It lit up his face and revealed his strong even white teeth. It made me go all mushy inside. It made me fall a little more in love with him.
“Thanks. Desola. You always know what to do.”
“You’re welcome.” My heart was still flip-flopping all over the place. I made to go towards the door but his voice stopped me.
“You know there’s a problem, don’t you?”
I nodded. I didn’t need to ask him what he was talking about.
He inhaled deeply. “I’m tired, Desola. Really tired.”
It was the first time he would be talking to me about his home and I didn’t know what to say. “It will be okay, Yomi.”
“No, it will not,” he raked his fingers across his closely cropped hair, a gesture I knew he did when he was frustrated. “That woman is almost driving me crazy. I’ve tried and I’m done.”
My heart ached at the pain he must be going through. I wanted to tell him it wasn’t his fault but I didn’t want to be seen as running his wife down. “Don’t let it get to you, Yomi,” I said quietly.
“Desola, that woman doesn’t love me.” The expression in his eyes was stormy. “I doubt if she ever did. I was just too blind to see it.”
“How could she not? It will be impossible for any woman not to love you after knowing you.” I wished I could take the words back but it was too late. Yomi had a mind like a razor and I knew the meaning of my words would not be lost on him.
He was silent for a long moment while I quietly prayed for the ground to open and swallow me.
“But Reni is a different kind of person, Desola. Reni is not like you.”
Our gaze locked for a moment and in that moment, I knew that Yomi was aware of my feelings. Probably had known for a while too. I also saw for the first time that he was not as immune to me as he had always made out. Our relationship had always been professional but there were a few times I had caught a certain expression in his eyes but it had been gone too quickly for me to process it. It hadn’t been something I wanted to process, either, because falling in love with a married man had never been my plan.
I tore my eyes away from his. “It will be all okay, Yomi,” I said quickly as I made to return back to my office. I needed to regroup. “You’re a good man and I know everything will work out for your good.”
“Desola.” His voice stopped me just before I got to the door.
I turned around slowly.
“Have dinner with me this evening,” he said, his eyes fixed on mine.
The air seemed to whoosh out of my lungs. Have dinner with Yomi? Get to spend time with the man who had occupied my thoughts and heart since I joined ZanTech two years ago? Have dinner with the man that my faith, conscience, and upbringing told me was not mine to love?
“Yomi, you are upset…” I began. “You’ve just had a fight with your wife and you really don’t want to complicate things more.” I was almost pleading with him. I knew I had a weakness for this man and I wished he would come to himself and not dangle temptation in front of me like a carrot.
He took a step towards me. “I’m not upset with you, Desola.” His voice was quiet. “You’ve never upset me, rather you make me believe good things still exists. There’s always a calmness about you and I just need that so desperately now.”
My heart rate was all over the place. Did Yomi know what he was asking from me? I’d managed to keep my feelings for him at bay and I didn’t want him to unleash the dam.
“Yomi…” I heaved a sigh.
“Say yes, Desola. Please…” His voice was a trap that was tugging at my heart. “Please, Desola.”
“Okay,” I said before I could help it.
His lips quirked in that smile that made me all gooey inside. “Thanks, Desola.”
Somehow, I was able to instruct my legs to take me back to my office but I carried on my work in a trance-like state afterwards. What did this all mean? Was this the beginning of a relationship with Yomi? What would I tell my parents and friends? I felt so conflicted and many times, I was tempted to tell Yomi I couldn’t do it but my heart was ruling my head in this matter and it prevailed.
With all that going on within me, I almost jumped when I saw my best friend’s call come in at lunch time. That was when I remembered we were meant to go shopping after work. Fiyin had a date that weekend and she needed my opinion on a dress she wanted to buy at a mall close to my office.
“Hey, Dess, how is it going?”
“Good, good.” I tried to keep my tone light but my voice sounded stiff even to my ears and I was not surprised when Fiyin caught on immediately.
“Why are you sounding like that? Hope you aren’t working too hard as usual.”
“Nah, I’m okay. I know you must be all excited about your date with Tolu,” I said quickly so I could move the conversation away from me.
“You can say that again.” I could hear the excitement in her voice as she began to tell me about their phone conversation the night before.
I was happy for her. I’d met Tolu a couple of times and he seemed like a really nice person. It was also obvious he liked Fiyin a lot.
We chatted for a few minutes and then she reminded me about our meeting later on.
“Erm, Fiyin, I won’t be able to make it.” I was almost stuttering and I tried to bring myself together. “Erm, something came up and I have to go out…help out….”
“Desola, are you okay? You’re sounding really strange. Of course, I’m gutted that you can’t come with me this evening but we can still go tomorrow. I told the store to reserve the dress for me, so it’s okay. But where are you going this evening?”
“Erm, someone asked me out,” I said, deciding to come clean.
“Yayy!” Fiyin whooped. “You sly horse! You’ve finally decided to put Lanre out of his misery and you didn’t tell me!”
I’ve not thought about him since I saw him in church the previous Sunday. The guy had been trying to get me to go out with him for months but I simply didn’t connect with him. How could I connect with another man when Yomi was resident in my heart?
“It’s not Lanre.” I wished I could lie but lying had never been my thing.
“Then who are you going out with…” Fiyin’s voice trailed off. “Wait a minute, Desola, please don’t tell me it’s what I’m thinking.” Her voice was heavy with foreboding.
I knew she had zeroed in on Yomi. Fiyin was the only one I had confided in about my feelings for Yomi. She had told me it was a no-no and I had agreed. I’d been convinced I’d never throw myself at him because he was married and I knew he was too decent to hit on me. But all that had changed that morning.
“He asked me out,” I said.
“And you said no, didn’t you?”
Which part of the information did Fiyin not understand? “And I said yes.”
“That man is married, Desola! You can’t do that.”
“His wife doesn’t love him.”
“And you think that justifies your actions? Desola, he’s not available. He’s married, full stop.”
“Yomi needs me, Fiyin.” If only she had seen the hurt in his eyes when he told me about Reni, she would have understood.
“He needs Jesus, Desola! They both need Jesus. They need counselling, not you! C’mon, Dess, you are a Christian! You can’t do this!”
The heart is not so smart. It goes where it should not go.
The words of the oldie song came to me. No one could control their hearts, right? Mine was right now sitting firmly in Yomi Bankole’s palm.
Fiyin tried to talk me out of the date but anytime I was tempted to take her advice, I’d remember the sadness in Yomi’s eyes and I knew I needed to be there for him at this time.
I finally managed to get her off the line with the excuse that I needed to return back to work. Afterwards, I let out a sigh as I massaged my forehead with my fingers. Talking with Fiyin had brought to the fore questions I’d rather not answer. But I felt she was unfair in her analysis. Everything was not always black and white, and in this case, going out with Yomi tonight appeared to be a solid grey.
A few minutes later, Yomi walked out of his office, talking on the phone as he did so.
He was dressed now in the heart-stopping “Yomi way.” His broad swimmer’s shoulders looked powerful beneath the snug fit of the shirt that also revealed the outline of his ripped abs.
He flashed me a smile and I forgot to breathe.
I followed his movements as he headed to the conference room for his meeting. That guy owned my heart. Full stop.
I placed my head in my palms as Fiyin’s words came back to me. What on Earth was I going to do?
It still felt very surreal as I dressed up for my date with Yomi. I smiled bemusedly as I saw my starry-eyed expression in the wall-mounted mirror in my bedroom.
I’m finally getting to spend some time with the man I love.
It felt like I was on cloud nine because I almost couldn’t feel my feet touching the floor in the black, scalloped pumps I had on. It was the first time I would be wearing the shoes that a client of ZanTech had gifted me. It was a Manolo Blahnik; something I’d normally not be able to afford.
Pity my dress was not a designer brand too, I thought as I looked at the snug fit of the green, chiffon knee-length dress I had teamed with the shoes. I felt my mood dip a little as I thought of Reni in her high-end designer brands.
Yet, she couldn’t hold on to her man, I comforted myself. So it definitely couldn’t be all about designer gear. In fact, I knew I had to make a conscious effort not to try to compete with Reni in the fashion stakes.
As if that was even possible.
I made a face at myself in the mirror at the absurd idea because one of Reni’s bags could feed a small village.
It wasn’t that I was bad in the fashion stakes; I’ve always received my fair share of compliments, but when a guy had been with a beautiful fashionista like Reni, then he’d very likely have seen it all. Wisdom dictated that I solidified on whatever had drawn Yomi to me which was very likely the care I showed him, rather than trying to compete with Reni in the fashion stakes.
I shook my head as I remembered one of Yomi’s attempts to give Reni a cuddle when she had come to the office. She had been in a good mood that day but instead of receiving her husband’s affectionate gesture, she had moved quickly out of his reach as she told him not to get her hair messed up.
I smiled as I smoothed my dress over my hips, before assessing myself from different angles in the mirror. Yomi could mess up my hair as much as he liked. For me, my mantra was to do whatever would make him happy.
But how do you know this isn’t just a friendly dinner?
The thought stopped me cold. Yeah, maybe he just needed company and wanted to be with someone he felt comfortable with. My mood dipped again. It was probably better I played it cool until I knew precisely where this was all going.
But I shouldn’t have worried. From the moment I opened the door for Yomi when he arrived at my place, I knew something had definitely shifted in our relationship. It was there in the gleam of admiration in his eyes as they roved over me. The way he touched my cheek as he handed me a lovely bouquet of pink and white roses. It was also there in the way he put his hand in the small of my back as we walked into La Khanza, the five-star restaurant he had booked for our date.
This was definitely a date, I thought to myself happily.
“What are you having for your main meal?” Yomi asked after the waiter left with our order for drinks and appetizers.
I scanned through the local and international cuisine on the menu and decided to go for their pan fried sea bass, with a side of roasted vegetables. For dessert, I chose cheesecake topped with chocolate and blue berries.
“Hmmm, sounds nice,” Yomi said when I told him what I’d decided. “Not quite sure what I’d like today.” The boyish smile I loved tugged at the corners of his lips. “Maybe I should let you choose for me. I know you know what I like.”
I smiled back at him. Yeah, I’d made it my business to know his tastes. I knew he was comfortable eating food from highbrow restaurants like the one we were in, but I also knew he had a hankering for street food occasionally, something he told me Reni disliked.
I was sensitive to his moods and knew when to order food from the popular buka two streets away from ZanTech, and I’d watch the delighted expression on his face when the food arrived.
“Let me see if I’ll get it right,” I said demurely as I scanned through the menu. “For the main meal, Beef wellington—well cooked, a side of vegetables like mine but with a generous helping of mushroom sauce. For dessert, chocolate coated truffles and ice cream.”
He chuckled. “Full marks, Desola. I’m already looking forward to tucking in.” He leaned forward slightly. “Thanks so much for spending time with me tonight. It means a lot to me.”
“You’re welcome, Yomi.” I searched his eyes to see if this excitement within me was all one-sided, and I felt reassured by the warmth in his gaze. “I’m glad I can be of help.”
“Trust me, you don’t know what a steadying factor you’ve been to me.” His expression turned bleak. “There were times I’d felt I couldn’t handle the stress of the office after another fight with Reni, but as soon as I saw you, the pressure would just seem to ebb away.”
“You’re easy to work with, Yomi.” I wanted him to snap out of his melancholy mood. “By the way, that shirt looks good on you.” He was wearing the second shirt I’d bought from Obinna’s shop. “But I knew it would from the moment I saw it.”
He smiled. “Yeah, I like it. Thanks once again, Desola.”
He told me he was planning to get some of his stuff from home the next day after Reni must have left for the office. “I’ll send a moving company to get the rest once I get a more permanent place.” A nerve clenched in his jaw but his gaze was resolute. “There’s so much a man can take, and I’ve decided this is it for me.”
I debated whether I should lie and say that I was sorry to hear of the end of his marriage, or if I should just try to comfort him.
“I’m sure it will all work out fine, Yomi,” I said, choosing the latter option. There was no way I could pretend that I was sad he was out of the clutches of that witch. “Let me know if there’s anything you need me to do.”
“Thanks, Desola. You’re already doing plenty.” He touched my hand lightly. “But let’s not talk about my marriage anymore. We’re here to have a good time and we’ll do so.”
I felt tingles shooting all the way to my toes at his touch. I was such a lost cause where this man was concerned.
“I think I can do that.” I was amazed at how calm my voice sounded even though it felt like I had a roaring inferno of emotions within me.
We chatted as we ate. He already knew quite a bit about me but this time around, he delved a little more as if he wanted to know all he could about me. He also told me personal stuff about himself and his family.
“It was lonely growing up as an only child,” he said wistfully. “That’s why I planned on having a minimum of four kids.” A mirthless smile crossed his lips. “But five years down the line, I don’t even have one child.”
“Remember you said we aren’t going to talk about anything morbid anymore?” I reminded him gently.
I knew he loved children. The way his eyes lit up whenever he saw the kids of staff members and the way he was such a softie when it came to pregnancy-related absence from work had always made that quite obvious.
“Yep. That’s what we said,” he nodded.
I was glad to see the smile back on his face. I was happier still when he suggested we go for a walk along the well-lit private beach at the rear-end of the restaurant after our meal.
There was a full moon out and it bathed the beach in its soft blue glow. It had been rather hot over the past few days and I breathed in the fresh air that wove its way around us as we walked along the shoreline. The sound of the ocean surging and crashing against the sands had a soothing effect and I wished we could stay there as long as possible.
“You definitely can’t walk in those shoes,” Yomi chuckled as he watched me making a brave effort to walk on the sandy beach. The wind was also bent on playing with my hair and I was trying to keep the wavy locks in place with my hands.
I grimaced. “Yeah, I think it’s best I take them off.”
“Let me help you.” He bent swiftly, undid my sandals and I gratefully slid my feet out. “Yeah, that’s better,” Yomi said as I wriggled my toes. “I’ll hold on to these for you.”
“Thanks, Yomi.” With the high heels off my feet, I had to look up some more to meet his eyes. But at least, I was still taller than Reni, I thought to myself somewhat maliciously. I felt pangs of jealousy shoot through me as the thought flitted through my mind that Yomi and Reni had probably done stuff like this several times in the past.
But that didn’t matter anymore, I consoled myself. What was important was that Yomi and I were here together and we’d make happier memories.
“By the way, is there someone I should be worried about?” He asked as he looked sideways at me. “Someone who wouldn’t be pleased that you’re out with me tonight?”
My heart soared. Things were definitely going in the right direction if he was asking me stuff like that.
“No one,” I smiled. “I’m not in a relationship.”
“Not even the guy who sends you lunch, and flowers?”
“What?” My mouth popped open and I giggled. So he had noticed Lanre’s gifts?
“Oh, so you didn’t know I was aware someone was sending stuff to you in the office?” Yomi tutted as he elbowed me slightly. “C’mon, girl. I may be busy but I’m not blind.”
“Seriously, I didn’t know you’d noticed.” I was still smiling. “But he’s just a guy who attends my church.” I shrugged. “Well, a guy who likes me but I don’t feel the same way about him. I’ve told him I’m not available because there was someone else I liked,” I added.
He didn’t say anything and we walked the next few yards in silence.
“Someone else you liked or you like?” Yomi stopped walking and turned towards me. “Someone you thought was not available, right?”
This guy is so smart!
I’d always known that, so I wondered why I was surprised he had caught on to my deliberate play with past and present tenses. His statement also confirmed my suspicion that he had known about my feelings for a while.
“But the guy’s available now,” he said softly as he placed his fingers underneath my chin and tipped it so I would meet his gaze. “I’m available, Desola. In the past, I didn’t dare explore whatever I thought you felt towards me. But I’m free now and there’s no one else I’d rather be with than you.”
It felt like I was levitating. Was Yomi Bankole really asking me to be his girl?
“Are you sure, Yomi? I mean, you’ve only just split from Reni. I think…I think we should give it a bit of time.”
“I feel completely at peace with you and I believe that’s a good start.” His fingers stroked my chin lightly. “You have a point about us taking it slowly, but it seems like I’ve wasted the past five years of my life and I don’t want to waste any more time.”
What could a girl say when the man she’s been in love with for two good years told her that? I pushed aside the annoying reminder from my conscience that Yomi was still legally married to Reni.
I’d waited just too long for a moment like this and it would be foolhardy not to seize the opportunity with both hands. Moreover, I told myself firmly, my presence in Yomi’s life would help him heal over his ordeal with Reni.
I stifled a yawn as I cast another glance towards the dance floor at Bresca. A popular song was being played and the men and women on the floor appeared very caught up in it. My lips curled with distaste as I saw a scantily clad girl shimmying in some weird manner to the hit song. The guy she was dancing with was egging her on and dancing in a circular pattern around her. The tempo of the song heightened and the girl started doing some more frenzied dance steps.
“What’s with the face, Reni? Aren’t you enjoying yourself?” Brianna, one of the friends I was hanging out with asked before taking a drag out of the cigarette that dangled between her well-manicured fingers.
“Keep your smoke to yourself, Brianna.” I ducked to avoid the smoke snaking its way slowly towards me. I’d never been a fan of smoking no matter how cool my friends found it but the smell was even more irritating to me tonight. But then again, everything had been irritating me lately.
Brianna grinned, her pearly white teeth flashing in the dimmed bluish lights of the night club. I’ve always wondered how her teeth remained so white despite her bad smoking habit. “You’ve been really snarky of late, Reni. What’s up, girlfriend?”
“Are you for real, Brianna?” Oyinkan, my other friend chuckled before taking a sip of the rum in her cup. “Anyone would be snarky if their husbands left them for a two-bit PA.” Her eyes gleamed mockingly as she looked at me. “No one has ever upstaged Queen Reni before as far as I can remember.”
“No one has upstaged me now either,” I retorted even though my face burned with anger at her comment. Oyinkan had offered her sympathy when Yomi moved out but I had the feeling that she was secretly gloating over the situation. “Yomi and I were done before he started his affair with her.” I couldn’t even bear to mention his PA’s name. That lying two-faced, so-called Christian.
“And you really believe that?” Oyinkan rolled her eyes. “That your Yomi has always been an accident waiting to happen.” Her lips curled cynically. “As far as I’m concerned, a guy who is that particular about his physique and dressing has got to be looking for some action outside his home.”
“Watch it, Oyinkan. He’s still my husband.” I glared at her. For some reason, Oyinkan has always found a way to run Yomi down but she was also the one who noticed the minutest detail about him. She knew what wristwatch he was wearing, the cut of his suit and would go as far as commenting on his cufflinks. Yomi on the other hand, detested her and did his best to keep out of her way.
“Oyinkan!” Brianna chided. “Seriously, girl, you need some sugar to dilute all that venom in you.”
I couldn’t agree more. I wasn’t sure why I’d kept up my friendship with Oyinkan over the years. Maybe it was due to some sort of loyalty. We had all attended the same secondary school, and University and had remained friends ever since.
“But seriously, what do you plan to do about the situation?” Brianna asked as she turned towards me. “You practically made that guy and he can’t be allowed to walk all over you just because he’s now got a few coins in his pockets.”
“He’s offered to pay back the money my mum spent on his education. He actually calculated it and made out a cheque to that effect.”
Brianna swore. “At what interest rate? What about all the doors and connections your family name opened for him? Does he think you’re a fool?”
Oyinkan nodded. “Yep. I agree with Brianna. You need to show that guy who’s boss. He thinks he’s rich now, right?” She scrunched her nose. “Girl, take him to the cleaners, and let him start from the scratch again!”
“And while you are at it, deal with that Desola chick in a way she won’t ever forget.” Brianna expertly snuffed out her cigarette and threw the butt into the holder on our table. She promptly lit another one, took a long drag and blew out the smoke before she continued. “In fact, I can even sort that out for you. I know some guys who can scare her within an inch of her life—”
“Thanks, Brianna but I can handle it,” I said quickly. I didn’t trust the extent to which Brianna would go and I already had enough on my plate.
Brianna slanted her well-defined brows as she gave me a measured look. “If you say so, but all you need to do is say the word and your girl here will handle that sidetrash for you.” She took another drag of her cigarette and sighed with pleasure as she blew out the smoke.
I felt nauseated as the smoke hit my nostrils again. “Do you mind putting that out for now, Brianna?” I asked. “In fact, don’t bother”—I shook my head—“I think I should be heading home now anyway.”
“That’s early,” Oyinkan protested. “It’s not as if anyone is waiting for you at home anyway.”
Yeah, remind me. No hubby, no baby……I was all alone. I felt my eyes smarting with tears and I blinked hard to keep them at bay. Morenikeji Bankole, nee Ade-Benson never cries. Not for any man, and certainly not for Yomi.
But to my dismay, I dissolved in tears as soon as I locked the sitting room door behind me. My live-in housekeeper was away and maybe it was the stillness in the house that set me off. I continued weeping as I slid to the carpeted floor after kicking off my shoes.
“You deserve it, Reni….” I sobbed almost hysterically. “You should have tried harder to conform to what he wanted!”
I shook my head violently. No, I didn’t deserve it! Yomi knew who I was when he met me and had appeared fascinated by my spoiled princess persona. He had indulged, and called me Queen Reni like everyone else. He had even promised me back then when he didn’t have two coins to rub together that he would make sure he worked hard to keep me in the style I was used to.
Yomi had kept the part of the promise about making money all right, but the guy who had hung on my every word had suddenly begun to detest me.
He didn’t say it but he showed it. I saw it in his eyes, the disgusted curl of his lips and the brusque way he responded to me. He acted like he could barely tolerate me and found subtle ways of disrespecting my mum. He worked long hours, then stayed glued to his computer when he came home. On many occasions, he also made sure he’d had dinner before he arrived home and would maintain a stony silence for the rest of the evening.
But hell hath no fury as a woman scorned as the saying went, and so I gave him a taste of hell. I needed his attention back and I didn’t know how to get it, so the little girl in me resurfaced. I threw tantrums and acted badly; that was what I had done as a child to get my parents’ attention. But it backfired with Yomi as he withdrew more and more from me.
“And now he wants a divorce,” I muttered forlornly. “Yomi wants me out of his life for good.”
I’d been stunned when his lawyers served me the divorce papers because I couldn’t believe Yomi would go that far. Shock had given way to anger when I thought of how I’d stood by him through thick and thin only for him to turn around on me when he achieved success. But those emotions were easy to handle compared to the sadness that had engulfed me as it dawned on me that my marriage was truly over.
The tears started dripping down my cheeks again and I lay back on the floor as more sobs racked my body.
I must have dozed off because the next thing I saw was the soft yellow light of dawn peeping through the window drapes. I made my way to my bedroom, climbed into bed and drew the duvet around me.
By the time I opened my eyes again, it was 11 am. I reached for my phone and saw several missed calls from my office manager and from the guy who handled my goods when they arrived in the country. I knew the next consignment of Italian furniture I had ordered for my showroom must have arrived, but there was no way I was going to work with the way I was feeling.
I returned the calls and gave instructions on what I wanted done. After that, I snuggled back under the duvet. My phone rang a few minutes later. It was Moni, the lady who had just moved into a shop two doors from mine. She must have found out I wasn’t around. Moni was a pleasant enough lady but I didn’t like the way she always threw an invitation to some Christian women fellowship she ran into our conversation. I felt there was probably something she saw that made her believe I needed to be more spiritual. To me, that was judgmental and I didn’t like it.
I ignored the call and pushed the phone under a pillow to muffle the sound.
I woke up an hour later to hear my phone ringing again. The caller ID showed it was my mum.
“What is wrong with you, Morenikeji?” She exclaimed in alarm when she heard my voice. “I’ve called your office and they said you haven’t been there today.”
I sat up and propped some pillows behind me. “I’m feeling a bit run down, Mum.” I threaded my fingers through my hair and grimaced as I saw my reflection on the mirrored wardrobes. I looked and felt like a mess.
“I know you are stressing yourself over that Yomi! He said he wants a divorce, abi?” Her voice sounded scornful over the phone. “Then we’ll give it to him! Ma worry, omo mi,” she continued. “We’ll divorce him, but he’ll regret the day he ever crossed our paths!”
My head was banging and my mum’s raised voice was not helping matters as she outlined the ways she planned to deal with Yomi. My mum came from an influential family and I knew she could pull strings that would cause some upsets in Yomi’s business. But I was tired of it all. I had fought Yomi for two years and it hadn’t yielded fruits. Maybe it was time to let him go.
“Reni, ma worry. You’re young, beautiful and successful and you’ll definitely find a better man than that Yomi,” my mum went on. “The yeye man that couldn’t even give you a child,” she hissed loudly.
My mum had no idea that I’d deliberately gone on birth control for over two years after I got married. That had been another major issue between Yomi and I. But my business was growing and my social life was better than I’d ever imagined. Being saddled with a baby at that time was not something I wanted and I’d told him so.
I’d finally succumbed to Yomi’s demands and gone off birth control in our third year of marriage but to my rude shock, had found it a challenge to conceive.
“Like I said, don’t worry, my daughter.” My mum’s voice broke into my thoughts. “If I still have admirers at my age, then be assured that you’ll have them coming after you in droves,” she hissed again. “Who is Yomi and who is his father in this town? Nonsense!”
I was glad when she got off the phone. I took a couple of painkillers and lay back on the bed. My mum’s reaction didn’t surprise me. She had never made it a secret that she felt a woman should walk if her marriage didn’t suit her. She had divorced my father when I was thirteen and she’d often told me that she had never regretted doing so. My two maternal aunts had similar stories.
My headache intensified as I wondered if my life was heading in the same direction as my mum’s and her sisters.
I felt the excitement mounting within me as Ka-Tell’s representative, Stella, told me about the company’s forthcoming dinner party for its contractors.
“I know we’ve only just signed you on, Yomi, but it’s our company’s policy to invite all our contractors to the event.” Stella closed her laptop. “The event is also quite close now,” she said apologetically. “So I’ll understand if you already have plans but I think it will be a good opportunity for you to network with members of our senior management team and possibly meet our CEO.”
Meet Akeem Kadiri, the guy I’ve hero-worshipped since I was in Uni? Now, that would be a dream come true. I could hardly even believe that I’d just signed the contract to become a contractor to the giant company that was listed as one of the most successful businesses in Africa.
Yomi, you’re really getting into the big leagues.
“It will be a pleasure to attend the dinner party,” I smiled at Stella. “Thanks for the invite.”
“Great,” Stella smiled. “Welcome on board once again.” She turned to the other representative who had come along with her. “Kamsi, I believe we’ve gone through everything with Yomi, or is there anything we’ve left out?”
Kamsi shook her head. “No, that’s all. Yomi, I’ll send the email to you as we discussed and attach those documents Ericsson sent to Ka-Tell. That would give ZanTech more information about Ka-Tell’s operations.”
I was sure I already had that information anyway, but I nodded and thanked her. Ever since I started pursuing the contract at Ka-Tell, I’d made it my goal to learn all I could about both companies and how they functioned. I knew that Ka-Tell had other contractors but I planned on giving them such excellent services that they would have no option than to take notice of us. Through that, I planned to penetrate other areas and become a major contractor to them.
“Good,” Stella said. “In that case, I think our business is done here for today.”
We said our goodbyes and I waited for the ladies to precede me out of the conference room. I pretended I didn’t notice the subtle admiring look that Kamsi cast my way. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that look since we started our meetings some weeks earlier but like I’d always done, I pretended I didn’t notice. I also respected the fact that Kamsi had remained professional and hadn’t come on to me any stronger than admiring glances.
She was a beautiful woman, though. My eyes followed her as she walked towards the door. Dressed in a blue and white patterned dress that stopped just above her knees, she had a figure that would command many men to go for a second look.
My eyes swept over her again. She was definitely beautiful. The high heels I’d noticed she favored made her slim shapely legs appear even longer.
But no one had legs like Reni’s. A faint smile crossed my lips. God had to have spent some extra time on those pins of hers. No one could also wear heels the way she did.
I checked my train of thoughts abruptly as I wondered why on Earth I was thinking of my soon-to-be ex-wife’s legs. But it was natural, I consoled myself. Reni had been a part of my life for many years and it would take some time before I could stop thinking about her in that way.
Nevertheless, it was very true that no one could contest Reni’s physical attributes. It had punched me in the guts the first time I saw her and I’d tagged after her like a lovesick puppy. But her beauty had soon paled in comparison to the issues we had. I now know from experience that a healthy relationship required more than the physical attributes of the couple.
No, I was better off without Reni, I told myself firmly. Judging from the speed with which her lawyers had responded to the divorce suit I’d filed, she also felt the same way. I’d thought she would want to lay claim to some financial settlement from me, but the only thing that Reni had stated in her response to the suit was that the proceedings be concluded as quickly as possible.
That made two of us.
My phone vibrated as I got into the car. I fished it out my pocket and smiled as I saw it was Desola. Now, that was one woman I knew really liked me. I’d found myself liking her more each day too. She was easy to get along with, intelligent, and wasn’t at all bad in the looks department, either. After the ordeal I’d gone through with Reni and her family, Desola’s calm disposition was like a balm on my bruised feelings.
“Celebrations are in order, aren’t they?” I could hear the smile in her voice.
“You got it right, pretty woman,” I smirked. “ZanTech is now officially a contractor for Ka-Tell. We’ve also been invited for a dinner party in a couple of weeks.” I smiled happily as my driver navigated his way through the traffic on Adeola Odeku road. As usual, several motorists and bike drivers were blaring their horns and I could hear the noise even though the car windows were wound up. But no noisy motorist could disturb the joy I had within me at the new deal ZanTech had just clinched. “Hope you have a shop in mind where you can get a lovely dress from?”
“A lovely dress for what?”
I chuckeld. “To be my plus-one of course. Who else would I be going with?”
She was silent for a moment. “That event normally attracts a lot of media coverage, Yomi,” she finally said.
“Just as well, isn’t it? It’s time to show my girl off to the world.”
She was quiet again and I knew what must be running through her mind. If Reni hadn’t already heard from her extensive network of friends that I was dating Desola, then news of us attending the dinner together would definitely get to her.
“Don’t worry, Desola, it’s all going to be fine. Like I said, it’s time to show off my girl.”
After our conversation, I leaned back against the headrest as I went over my meeting with Stella and Kamsi.
Clinching the Ka-Tell deal was a dream come true. I’d had my eye on that sector for a while and I was glad I’d finally gotten in. I also knew it would open more doors for me.
Who’d ever have thought the boy from Mushin would get this far in life, I mused.
“Thank you, Jesus.”
But as I said the words, I felt somewhat guilty too. I knew my Christian walk was far from what it should be. If anything, it had been on a downward spiral for some time. The constant fights between Reni and I made it difficult for me to pray and after struggling to keep up for a while, I’d left it altogether.
But I felt it was time I went back to God, especially now with my budding relationship with Desola. I’d had one failed relationship and even though Desola was very different from Reni, the thought of things going south again with another woman was scary.
Yeah, it was time I paid my spiritual life a bit more attention. I didn’t want to go back to the church Reni and I had attended. It was a large church and I doubted if anyone had even noticed our absence. I needed somewhere smaller this time around. Somewhere I’d feel more at home in.
I would start shopping for a new church and hopefully, also be able to volunteer in a department in the church as soon as possible .
“What did Sienna want?” Brianna asked curiously as I returned back to the table where she and Oyinkan were seated. “It’s something to do with the Dartmouth’s old students’ dinner, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is.” As I made to put my phone away, I saw a popular musician walking into the section of Navagne, the restaurant we were having dinner in. Draped over his arm was a lady I recognized as a popular influencer on Instagram. There had been rumors for a while that they were dating but they had always denied it.
From the way they were acting all loved up, it was obvious they were definitely in a relationship.
“Confirmed.” Oyinkan had seen them too. “Ola Johnson is really going out with Rekia. But I wonder why they’ve been denying the rumours all over the place?”
“Despite their denials, I always knew there was something there.,” Brianna craned her neck to get a better view of the couple. “It was just too much of a coincidence that they’ve been spotted at the same place so many times. I’ll admit it was clever of them to always arrive and leave in separate cars but I knew it would only be a matter of time before they were outed. But as I was saying, Reni,” Brianna focused on me again. “What did Sienna want?”
“She wants me to be at Dartmouth’s reunion and said she’ll convince the other members of the planning committee to push the date forward by two weeks since the original date they’ve fixed does not work for me.”
Brianna’s eyes widened. “Like seriously? They are changing the meeting of the whole of our year group just because of you?” She made a mock bow. “All hail the queen! Twelve years after leaving Dartmouth international, and you’re still the reigning queen!”
“Oh, please,” I made a face even though I was flattered by Sienna’s efforts to have me attend the reunion by all means. It would be our third reunion, and from what she said, more people were planning to attend this time around. “She just wants everyone to be there.”
But unlike before, I wasn’t looking forward to this year’s event. I was sure the news of my breakup with Yomi would have made the rounds by then and I didn’t want to be the cynosure of all eyes. I was not given to self-deception and I knew quite a few people would be happy that things weren’t fine with me.
“Knock it off, Reni, humility doesn’t suit you.” Oyinkan’s lips curled cynically as she reached for her glass of wine. “Are you even really travelling or you just wanted them to grovel and beg you to attend?”
I knew she didn’t like the fuss that the planning committee had made about my attendance and I smirked as I saw the envy in her eyes. I reached for a chocolate truffle and bit into it before responding. “Yes, I’m actually travelling,” I replied. “I need to meet with some suppliers in Italy and the meeting is long overdue.” My smile widened as I saw her lips tighten. It always amused me to see that Oyinkan was still as envious as she had been when we were at Dartmouth. Some things never change.
“Oyinkan, maybe if you’re as generous as Reni whenever Sienna and her group request for sponsorship, they just may make the same fuss over you.” Brianna chipped in.
Oyinkan pursed her lips. “Well, Reni can keep throwing her money away. As for me, I’ve got worthwhile investments to use mine for.”
“Like purchasing another Birken, right?” Brianna gestured at the blue trapeze shaped bag Oyinkan had placed conspicuously on the table. “Girl, everyone knows you’re only interested in spending on you and you alone. But anyways, besides Reni’s generosity, everyone always looks forward to seeing what outfit she’d turn up in, and I know my girl here won’t disappoint this year either. In fact, I need to start shopping for my outfit as soon as possible.”
Brianna began to tell us about some new shops she had discovered online. “I’ve ordered a couple of things from them and they’re really good. The sizes are just as described too.”
“Great, but I’m too busy to bother about shopping right now, so I’m just going to throw on any old thing….” I paused as Brianna started laughing. Even Oyinkan was smiling. I made a face at them but could not help smiling too. They were both aware I didn’t possess “any old thing.” All the outfits in my wardrobe were carefully selected to make an impression.
Yet, I could not keep my man.
As always, the thought hit hard and I felt my mood dip. I wondered what Yomi was doing at the moment. He was probably cosying up with Desola.
I tried hard to push their thoughts to the back of my mind. I had come here to have fun with my girls and I planned on doing just so. I reached for another chocolate truffle but changed my mind. I had not enjoyed the last one I had eaten or maybe it was me. My appetite had been rather poor of late. My sleeping pattern was no better. The emotional trauma of the breakdown of my marriage seemed to have taken its toll on my entire being.
Before I knew it, my thoughts were back to Yomi. A bitter smile crossed my lips as I remembered the visit to my lawyers the day before. They had been optimistic that it would wrap up quickly because the case was relatively straightforward. Yomi had cited irreconcilable differences as his reason for seeking a divorce and I had agreed with it.
The news had made its rounds amongst my family and they were solidly behind me. Some of them had still not gotten over the fact that I had married a guy from a background like Yomi’s, and our separation gave them the opportunity to vent all over again.
“If he wants to go, then let him go!” Auntie Banke, my mum’s cousin had said scornfully when I met her at a family function. “I still remember how his family looked at your wedding. The way they dressed…their obvious lack of social skills.” she had clucked her lips in disgust. “Yet, we accepted them. We accepted them and gave them our daughter, only for Yomi to turn around and treat you this way. Look, Morenikeji, I agree with your mum, let him go, and let’s see what will become of him in this Lagos.”
The only members of my family who had some emphathy for Yomi were my brothers. They told me Yomi had insisted he preferred not to talk about our issues when they called him, but had finally cited Toni’s case as the final straw that got to him when they prevailed on him.
“But I can’t quite comprehend how you guys could fight over a lousy guy like Toni.” Kenny, one of my brothers had told me over the phone. “How could you allow Toni of all people to mess up your home?”
“Toni may be lousy but he’s still family,” I’d retorted. “And the last I knew, familes help each other. What if Toni had been Yomi’s brother or cousin?” I’d asked. “Would Yomi have done the same thing?”
Kenny had evaded the question but said he would talk with Yomi again. I didn’t care if he talked with Yomi a million times. Yomi could go ahead and do his worst. He wanted out of my life and he could stay out.
If only my heart could stop aching….