They say some love stories were made in heaven. Well, some are not, some are made here on earth by the characters themselves choosing to give in, compromise and stay with what matters. Femi and Banke are one of such characters, and yes, they exist, in my head and in most of our hearts. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed dreaming it! (I honestly tried to make it short) This is one of those stories you finish in your head find it hard to articulate. Havent sweated on an ending like this before, but hey, what do I know? To understand the story better, please read the first two instals! http://www.naijastories.com/2010/05/new-beginings/ http://www.naijastories.com/2010/05/new-beginings-2 http://www.naijastories.com/2010/07/new-beginings-3/
Lunch went surprisingly well. Femi and Tega hit it off without any help, not welcoming any interruptions to their ‘deep’ interaction. Something about cars and remote controlled machines… They acted like they were like new friends meeting for the first time. They surprisingly had the same tastes, same meal preferences and same response to the corn soup. It was a coincidence Banke wasn’t sure she quite appreciated. She had thought he was pretending, it wasn’t his style but 6 years waas a long time…
The boy sat next to Femi and swallowed every word that came out of his mouth. She had never known Femi to be a lover of kids, neither had she seen Tega take to a complete stranger like this. Banke’s heart beat rapidly as she watched her son bond, for the first time, with a grown up male apart from Bolade. She barely had the chance to talk to Femi or give him the explanation she came with as he was either caught up with Tega or in the general gist. Well, it could have been worse, she thought. It could have been awkward and painfully strenuous on everybody, but it wasn’t. She would be grateful for small mercies and not push her luck. Sometime during lunch, Femi got around to ask for her number and Tega responded before she could think:
“You don’t have mommy’s number? I know it offhand, should I save it on your phone?’
“Go right ahead, tiger”
Everyone but Banke found it funny. Everyone but Banke laughed. She excused herself and got up from her seat.
“I need to use the restroom, one second, guys.”
She walked away without waiting for a response. Femi followed suit. The casual air on the table seemed to have vanished. Titi made an attempt to get up, but Bayo held her hand.
“Allow…” She turned to Tega instead and tried to distract him before he noticed anything was amiss
“Banke, Banke, wait up… what’s wrong?” he held her arm and forced her to face him. “Did I say something wrong?” His worry was etched in bold on his brows. She was surprised! He was actually concerned! In an attempt to respond, she bursted into a mix of laughter and tears…
“Oh, Femi… it’s been so long… I…”
Femi dragged her out of view into the lobby. His jaw was set in that same way he was when his mind was made up on something.
She started to apologise for the mini-drama when he said, “Babe, do you want to do this here or do you want to go somewhere else?”
“I’m sure he is in very competent hands”
“Where will we go? I can’t think of anywhere…”
“Then, I’ll just drive around”, Femi replied as he picked his phone and dialed Bayo’s cell. “I asked Bayo to take Tega to my house and wait for us, do you mind?”
“No, it’s fine. You have a place already?”
“Yeah, Bayo did the ground work for me. It’s still very empty now, so enough space for the young man to run around while I kidnap his mommy.” Femi smiled at those words. Banke was indeed someone’s mommy.
It was one of those days with longer nights and the sky was turning grey at 5.00 p.m. They drove through V.I. to Lekki and reminisced on old memories, shared new ones an paused at the points of possibilities. They had both changed. Gone was the timid and shy 21 year old who couldn’t hold her own without help. In her stead was a confident and beautiful single mother he almost could not recognize! She laughed the same, she felt the same on the tip of his fingers, but she was not the same. Femi liked what he saw, and he was damned scared of what he felt! When it looked like they were finally out of small talk, he chose to break the ice.
“I was a fool, you know… I should never have cut you off like that. I can understand if you don’t want to have anything to do with me on any level, but I just want you to know that I regret every choice that has taken me away from you… Tega’s dad, he’s a lucky man… he has what I do not, or may never have with you. He has a chance of a lifetime with you. I would… ” He was going to say that he would give anything to have that chance with her, but instead, he laughed.
“Yesterday, I was… sucker-punched is the word!”
Banke tried to get a word in, but Femi raised his hand and touched her face. “Babe, let me get this out while I’m still coherent…” His hands dropped to rest on hers on her laps. If she minded, she made no show of it. He continued;
“God knows it wasn’t easy, but I did take the easier way out. It was hard for me… losing Mom and Dad… on the same day… over some stupid thing like a younger mistress… I always asked my self, what would have happened if my mom hadn’t threatened my dad, or if I had gone home more often, would I have been able to stop what happened…?” He suddenly felt very tired. But he had to finish this. He wasn’t sure he could get another opportunity to have her to himself like this in a while. He continued with a sigh;
“I wanted to forget everything that was connected to all those memories…, I wanted to blank it all out. And you, my love…,” he couldn’t resist touching her face once again, feel her warm skin, connect to her in some way… “you were in the center of it all. Being strong for me, urging me on… you stood by me, through all the mess! Bad press, creditors! Everything! I couldn’t forget everything that you did for me, and I couldn’t forget anything cos of that! So, I ran from you.”
Banke’s welling eyes had burst. It wasn’t about her. It was him, being selfish and not not trusting her to be strong enough again. Anger, relief, fear and desire washed through her like a current. She sighed and looked down as the tears trickled down through his fingers to wet her skinny jeans. Femi could do nothing but keep talking
“And it was the single most stupid thing I’ve ever done. I have no excuse, babe, none at all. If you forgive me well enough I can give a proper explanation. But, I’m not absolved. I have punished you and punished myself for over 6 years, but I’m done now. I want to be a part of your life, if you have the space for me, if you can find it in you to stand me. I have picked up worse habits than those you know, for your information”
“Like what now? Do you scratch your butt in public now?”
He laughed, “I don’t know o… nobody has come close enough to notice”
“Tega is not my son…”
If Femi was shocked, he did not show it.
“I mean, he’s my son in all respects, but, I didn’t carry him, I’m not his biological mother. He… it’s a long story… I..”
” He’s a great kid… very smart… and very confident”
“He’s not like that with everyone… he’s usually very shy and reserved. He only relaxes with me and family, and of course with Titi’s kids.”
Her eyes shone as she talked about him and Femi wondered how this long story happened.
“The doctors gave him 3 months, can you believe that…? His mother, I never met her… was a prostitute or an unfortunate teenager caught in bad company. His father may have been German, French or British, I dont know, and I don’t care… there were no records to follow… just her unconscious body and him, wailing… I was in just driving by… you never know when and what would change your life… I couldn’t leave him… it was like I was supposed to find him….”
Her face had always been like a book, looking at her, he could read the history of emotions she wore as she recollected…
“My dad… he couldn’t object. Clara’s game was finally up and he was trying to make up for all those years… he supported me all through… even redrafted his will to include a scholarship for Tega… His name came from his birth mom… the nurses said she kept asking of him the few times she roused before she passed. I wanted him to have that part of his history…”
She sighed, “I dont know what to say, Femi… it’s so much, all at once… you, you and Tega…”
She looked up at him with all the tears and confusion in her eyes.
“He never relates well with strangers. His therapist said it would take him some time… given that he spent most of his early years, till he was about three with different specialists… he still falters in speech when he gets too excited… he’s always with me, you know…. He never… and then he meets you and… I want to go home, Femi… Please take me home…”
Femi leaned in and wrapped her in his arms. Banke laid her head on his broad shoulders and just stayed there. No words were spoken, but plenty heard. The drive to his house was long and slow. For him, it gave him the opportunity to think, clear his head. He did not realise he felt all what he suddenly was feeling so deeply. He knew he had wanted to see her, make amends if possible… But now, it seemed this was the reason why he came home. To find Banke, marry her and be a father to her half caste son. The fat pay check and managerial position was just a perk. He knew it now, and he did not want to waste anymore time. He turned to face her as soon as the engines turned off.
“Banke… baby… I know this is a lot, and it’s all happening fast, trust me, it’s fast for me too. But with all the craziness, I know one thing clearly. I want to be with you. I want to spend the rest of my life showing you how much you mean to me. I want to take care of you, love you like I know how to and raise Tega with you. I don’t want a part of your life, I want all of it, if you would have me. I’m not asking you to say anything now, I know you will need time. I can wait. I will wait for as long as you need. I just want you to know how I feel. If you say no, I would understand. God knows you would be justified. But it won’t make me want you less or stop loving you”
He leaned forward and pecked her forehead like he usually did then and then opened the car door.
“Do you want to come up or do I get Tega for you?”
They had dinner the next day. And lunch the day after. Then a quick breakfast on the way to work on Thursday. Tega now cleared his plate without much prompting. He seemed to enjoy having Femi around and couldn’t wait to give him an update of his latest achievements. Their buddy-ness warmed her heart and scared her in many ways than she could articulate.
Saturday was usually play day at Titi’s. And like her usual routine, Banke packed her son’s play bag and started making a mental note of to-dos when Femi called.
“Hey… You up?”
“Yeah, did you get any sleep at all?”
“Yep. Crashed at Bayo’s after the game. His house is closer to the court”
“I don’t know how you do it, I feel like a truck ran over me”
“Then tuck yourself in for me… wish I could do that myself…”
“It’s past midday, Femi, and I have a strapping youngster who of late has been eating a lot of breakfast”
“Awww… sorry babes. That’s why you should have me around. I could have taken care of both of you this morning”
“And missed your game? I think not!”
“You’d be surprised at the things I’ll gladly miss for you, babe”
Banke bit her lip and swallowed her reply. The conversation drifted to work and an update on Femi’s incoming container. Then he offered to come take Tega out so she could rest for the rest for the rest of the day.
“Aaww… thanks, but today is play day for him. I should be heading to Titi’s house now so he can play with her kids”
“I can drop him off for you then. Haven’t had the time to go see Titi since I got back anyway, so this might just be a good opportunity. And you will get to rest more. And maybe I can win his consent to steal his mommy away later in the day…?”
Days grew into weeks and then a few months. Femi had spent every spare moment with Banke and Tega. His thinking was that he would play house for a bit to let her know how serious it was, and with time, he thought, they would find a more comfortable routine that would suit all three of them. But right now, their routine suited him just fine. He got used to the threesome of them on weekends, after school on Fridays and for early morning mass on Sundays. He’d even gone to confession twice in less than 6 months! Maybe marriage was ready for him. He was definitely ready for Banke, but for some reason, he was scared to tip the boat. They had settled into a comfortable routine and he did not want anything to spoil what he had going for him. But he was tired of going home at 1.00 a.m. and rushing out at 6.30 a.m. It was time to play his last card.