“Someone tell me how you deal with a past you have never wanted to deal with but keeps dealing with you? I know, it doesn’t make sense what I just said. But it does. How in heavens do I handle this whole Nigeria visit?”
Athena’s day typically starts with an early morning jog. Not that she was so much of a health buff, she just liked the way the day unfolded before her. She always said, if she had chosen to settle in New York, it would have been Manhattan. She could afford it and it would have fit perfectly. But her thoughts were far from the many sources of comfort available to her.Her thoughts were on Lagos. Precisely Isolo, where her aunt lived. Due to Toke’s insistence, she had agreed that they would leave together from New York. Maybe with Tomide. She was actually glad Toke had offered to plan the trip. It meant she would not be traveling alone. It meant she would have the entertainment of Toke’s strapping twins as a distraction. It also meant that Toke would be assuring her all through that the trip would be worth her while. She needed that or else…
She’d fielded all calls from her aunt since then. Not that she expected her to call back. But her instructions were clear, she didn’t want to know even if she did.
The jog always helped, especially if the weather was right. As she walked into the apartment lobby, her mobile rang.
“hey girl, watsup?”
“Girl…? I had no idea I rang like a female” came the baritone voice.
“Oh Dee, I’m sorry” she said as she laughed, “my mind went straight to Toke, so I just assumed you were her!”
“Now I’m a female cousin!” he replied dryly
“Whatever dude!” she laughed and stopped to disconnect the earpice. “So what’s good? How’s your end?”
“You are not going to ask me why I’m calling you so early?”
“Well, I’ve already called you a chick, so you’ve earned some slack. I was actually hoping you’d volunteer the information.”
“I’m in Paris, baby!”
“No, you are not!”
“Yes I am!”
“When did you leave Chicago?”
“Last night. Catching the 6.30 p.m. flight back to Chicago. And guess what I did?”
“What?” she asked guessing already
“Yeah, I forgot, you suck at guessing… I visited that flea market at Saint Ouen.”
She had guessed wrong. “And you are in the antique shop right now?”
“Get out..! We were supposed to go back there together, mister!”
He laughed and proceeded to paint vivid pictures of the many finds he had. The exquisitely artistic pieces he had bought at crazy bargains. She suddenly had itchy feet.
“What time is it?”
“It’s about 4.45 p.m.? Why? You wanna come?”
“Go jor… I thought you were there for business.”
“But I am. My meetings came to an abrupt end, Location has also been changed.”
“What meeting is this?”
“The real estate thing I told you about…”
“Oh yeah… that! How’s it going?”
“So far, so good… no BP inducing surprises yet. I don’t know where my father gets all these crooked contacts from. You know, I am very convinced he doesn’t need these new businesses. He just wants to lure me back home so he can find me a nice Lagos girl to marry”
“Well, maybe you should. You are not getting younger you know…” she laughed
“I’m waiting on you. I told you I would…”
Athena never liked the ease with which Dele referred to his feelings for her. It was too easy, too smooth. Dele. Her first crush. Akindele Akinfolarin Bamidele-Savage, her one and only love.
“When are you back?
“Should be in Chicago by 6.45 a.m. Paris time, tops. That’s about 7 p.m. in L.A.”
“Hhmm…” Her mind had gone from Lagos to Chicago. She remembered the few times he’d been around to pick her up from some of her many trips. It would be awkward to try to return the favour, won’t it? She thought so too.
“You miss me, babe?”
“Right! Pigs free fall and dive!”
Dele laughed so hard, she was afraid he would choke on whatever it was he had been chewing in her ear.
“I’m glad I can make you laugh so early in the day!” she retorted. “I’m hanging up on you now, boo. Some of us have serious work to do.”
“Quit the drama, Athena, I bet your nose is twitching with all the lies you telling”
And on and on went the banter. Dee was always good at getting her spirit lifted or her mind of present worries. he was too good infact, that’s why she always took time off their easy relationship to avoid him. Like she had done in the last couple of months.
She met Dele in College, fresh from Lagos. She and Toke had ended up in different schools in America. Not that she minded one bit. Something had changed in her since that day she longed to remember, it had altered everything. Prior to her going to America, Toke had been given admission to University of Maryland, where Tomide was, as well as UPenn. She hadn’t been too sure of her choices so she had applied to some of the names she had heard been bandied around. One of them was University of California. It was supposed to be renowned for their undergrad management program. They had thought she qualified too. Shortly after school resumed, she had to go home for Grandma Coker’s funeral. She came back two weeks later, met herself behind in more papers than she thought and needed a tutor. Then came Dee. First they were friends, then dated briefly, but that didn’t work so, they reverted to distant acquaintances. Athena had even dated one of his frat brothers in her second year. But after she failed to meet up with his girlfriend ‘expectations’ she decided she had had it with boys. Not like she saw the need for the excessive attention anyway. In her opinion, attention usually meant trouble.
She and Dee had resumed their friendship at his frat dinner. Being a double honors student of the female counterpart fraternity, they were the official escorts for the graduating guys. Dee had picked her as his date. The night was nothing short of magical. She wondered if things would have been different if they had waited till then before dating at all. He’d been with her since then. As a friend, a suitor, business partner and one time client. The guy had just refused to let go. But Athena… Athena could not give Dele what he wanted the most.
“If you are nice, I might get you a little something before I leave”
“Yeah, whatever!” she laughed “Be safe darling, call me when you land”
“Aite babe. Take care now. Don’t forget, daddy loves you.”
“Yeah, whatever…” she murmured as she dropped her mobile on her bed.
Dee had been the only one that knew about ‘the incident’. She had told him and then broken up with him. It seemed fair to him, or so she thought. they never talked about it again. She sometimes wondered if he thought about it. Other times she wondered if he forgot. Why else will he still be interested in her? Like all questions that lacked answers, Athena tucked that one back in with the rest in the deep crevices of her mind, laying it to rest.
Toke had sent her details of the flight reservations by noon. She hadn’t been able to confirm the details. An emergency client lead had taken her whole day. She got back to her house about 8 p.m. and was grateful for the empty lobby. She had no energy for smiles and James the porter was kind enough not to request one in return for his. Had she not walked blindly across the hall, she would have seen Dele walking out of the waiting room towards her. Walking into the empty lift, she nearly cussed when its doors were forced open again. Another solitude taken away. She couldn’t wait for the 18th floor. This Nigeria trip was costing her too much strain!
The stranger in the lift touched her arms ever so familiarly. She turned sharply with steel in her eyes
“Wh… Dele!” she half shouted, half laughed.
“Yay! I’m happy to see you too! he responded in similar tone, half laugh, half shout. “What got you so wound up?”
It was as if their conversation this morning had never ended. He was easy like that. So she told him all, The meeting, the boring client, getting the brief, Toke’s mail and the reality of the trip to Lagos. Like he knew he was expected to, Dele offered no words until she was done. Then he took her coat and put his free arm around her shoulder as he led her out of the lift.
“So, what do you want to do? Do you wanna cancel the trip?
“No… I couldn’t do that now. My Aunt will have a fit.”
“Yeah, I know… I’ll be in Nigeria next month too. Like mid-month thereabouts. My dad and his many tricks again.”
“Oh really, when? We are leaving on the 12th.” she replied as she worked the locks of her door
“Two days after. Not sure how long I’m staying though. But I could take a break and stay till you are back… if you want me to…’
“You’ll do that for me?”
“I would do anything for you,” he said as a matter of fact as he worked the TV remote.
At that instant, she looked at him, wet in the eyes and quivering at the lips. He was too good for her and she didn’t know why. He deserved so much more than what she doled out, much more than she could ever give. She should tell that so that he would leave. But she didn’t. rather she said;
“That would be nice, thank you. So what brings you here? I thought you were landing in Chicago…”
“Couldn’t wait to see you.”
“Hhmm… truer words have never been spoken”
“I got you something…”
Her eyes perked up and she hoped the excitement would hide the brimming tears.
“What did you get me?” she asked walking back towards him with two glasses of french wine.
“You’ll have to close your eyes to find out…”
She obliged him. She put the two glasses down, setting the one with ice in front of him. She sat on the edge of her seat and closed her eyes. A few seconds passed.
“Don’t even try to open your eyes… there…. keep them shut…”
Then she heard the song.
The only time they were in Paris together, by chance, she had seen an antique music box in one of the antique shops they visited. She had fallen in love with it. The box, well, wasn’t shaped like a box. It was like a bronze ball, and rather than a ballerina, it had a female cupid doing the pirouette move. To further endear her to the piece, the storekeeper’s daughter had told her the story behind the music box. According to the story, the storekeeper’s grandmother had received it as a gift from her husband just before he went to off to war. He had never come back. The tragic tale even made it a more romantic piece, but Athena couldn’t have it. It was not on sale. Dele had somehow bought the box… or an imitation, for her! Her eyes opened slowly as if in fear that her eyes were playing tricks on her. She squealed with delight and hugged him tight.
“Woah… easy woman… I know I’m that attractive, but I’d rather you warn me before you jump me…”
“Thank you! thank you!! Thank you!!!” She squealed some more as she opened the box and the music began to play. She put the little round box on her mantle and watched as cupid danced to what she guessed would be a song of love. “I wonder what the song was about…”
“Oh, that? I asked. It’s a love song, naturally. About a man who went far away from the woman he loved. He sang everyday his prayers to the gods.”
“What was the prayer?” she asked turning to look at him, smiling.
Dee was not smiling. He had on that intent look he borrows when he tried to say something serious. Not that he’s never serious. He said I bring out the joker in him.
“What’s wrong? Did I say something…?”
He ignored my question. “I know this is not a good time to do this, but why, Athena? What is it that isn’t good enough? What do you think I wouldn’t do for you? Why do you insist of inflicting this… punishment, babes? I love you. You know that. I’m hoping that in the least, you will care for me a bit… Just tell me, is that too much to hope for? I said I’ll wait. And trust me, I mean it. I will wait forever if I have to. But I want to know if my waiting will be for nothing, or if at least I have a chance with you. Don’t you think I can be more than… what… Dee who pesters you on the phone or Dee who makes fun of your scopers? Don’t you see I can be Dee who cares for you…?”
I cut him off as soon as I got over the shock. “Dee.. I know you care for me. You show it everyday…”
“Then what? You don’t care for me? You don’t even love me a little?”
I shut the music box. I didnt want to think of a fight every time I heard it play. I did not know what to say. I had nothing to say. Anything I said would have shown me for the worthless, unhappy soul that I was. The thought of that shocked me. And for the second time in 3 months, I spoke again without thinking.
“I care for you more than I probably will ever care for anyone.” Dele’s face showed surprise and relief all at once. “I care for you more than I ever thought I could. But I do that only here… in my heart. I don’t know how to care elsewhere. I can’t afford to care else where. Cos, what happens if… if I die or you die…or we… I don’t want to do this, Dee, I don’t know how to…”
“Athena, this is all I have ever asked you… let me show you how.”