I feel like I’m falling off a tall building. A skyscraper. The tallest skyscraper, I think it’s somewhere in Dubai. No, scratch that. I feel like I’m falling from space into earth. Yes. A numb, weightless feeling. I imagine an apocalyptic war raging on a dust particle floating to the ground in the desert. That’s what falling in space would be like. All these emotions and thoughts and feelings raging in me but no one else can see them and no one else really cares, I mean, what place does a single human falling have in the vastness of our universe and beyond? A numb, weightless feeling. Although it is coupled with the realization that, like falling in space, I would soon enter earth’s atmosphere and if by some miracle I’m not completely consumed and destroyed by my own momentum, I would surely be when I hit the surface with a splat. I cringe inwardly as I imagine my brains splattered somewhere and my lifeless body crumpled beyond recognition.
I hold on to Sade like my life depends on it. Her small frame is engulfed by my arms and I literally feel like I would shrivel and die if I let her go. An image comes to my mind of a plant with a striking resemblance to me with its leaves drying up rapidly and its stalk disintegrating until finally it disappears into nothing. I smile a little and the wetness on her neck when I unbury my face from it makes me realize that I’ve been crying. She misunderstands this and begins to move away from me.
“Wait.” I plead and she becomes still. I inhale deeply to breath in her scent and it makes me feel a little better. Her smell hasn’t changed over the years and the familiarity of it acts like some sort of anchor and I become more aware of my surroundings. The first thing I notice is that her hands are hanging limply at her sides. A wave of embarrassment hits me immediately as I take a step back. I watch her as she turns away from me to pull a pack of tissues from her purse that’s on the sink and proceed to wipe my tears off her neck. Her green dress fits snugly, a bit too snugly probably because I’m able to make out the outline of her underwear. It looks like a thong and I also can’t help but notice the love handles at her sides.
“What do you want from me Jide?” I’m surprised at her tone. I hastily drag my gaze away from her body and I search her face. “What do you want from me?” Her voice is louder now. She’s not joking, she’s not being sarcastic, she’s not teasing, in fact I see from her face that she’s completely serious.
Someone begins to knock on the door. The sound is distracting. “What do you mean?” I’m at a loss. This is not a side of her that I’m familiar with. “I don’t under-” She cuts me off.
“You don’t understand what?” She’s practically shouting now. I hate to see her angry. She almost never gets angry.
“I’m sorry!” I’m not sure what I am apologising for, but I want her to calm down. “What’s wrong Shade?” I ask after a moment. She just shakes her head. She won’t meet my eyes. Her arms are folded across her chest. She unfolds them and picks up her purse.
“Sometimes…” She looks at me now but she’s not really looking at me. “Sometimes, I want to tell you that my name is Fola too.” She walks to the door and unlocks it. Two buxom women rush in, glaring at us accusingly. She turns back to me “It’s a great show Jide. I’m sure people are waiting for you.” Then she leaves.
I loved to watch Folake brush her teeth. It was a joke that we shared, how I was turned on more by toothpaste in her mouth than soap on her body. We would be lying in bed and she would smile at me sweetly, her dimples prominent, then she would ask me if I wanted her to brush her teeth. We would laugh and we would make love. She had even started saying it in public. It became some kind of secret language between us.
There was a time, at an anniversary dinner my parents were having that she’d said it. My dad had just embarrassed me by insinuating that I was an unemployed good for nothing. He had joked, saying that I should let him know when my extended sabbatical was over. I told him I wasn’t on a sabbatical, that I was a struggling artist and he’d laughed like I had just provided the punchline to his joke. The table was silent after that.
My sister’s husband glanced at me, unable to hide his judgement. My mother was surprisingly quiet. She had always been the one to come to my defence so I wondered what her silence meant. I looked around the table and no one would meet my eyes, not even my little brother. Blood rushed into my face and I was contemplating walking out of the dinner when Folake cleared her throat loudly and announced that she felt like brushing her teeth. The tension suddenly broke as my family laughed and began to ask her questions. My sister had looked at her incredulously and asked if she usually brushed her teeth in the middle of a meal. Folake had just smiled her goofy smile. The smile that told you that whoever you were, you just had to love her.
I’d looked at her then. Her dark braids were held away from her face by a black band and they fell straight at her back to her waist. She was wearing the earrings we’d bought together that afternoon, the studs were shaped like bullets and I’d thought they were awesome. She’d thought they were ridiculous but we’d bought them anyway. I looked at her dimples and at the downy hair on her face. I looked at her neck and her shoulders, admiring the way the beige dress set off her skin. She had turned to face me, smile still in place, less goofy now but more like an I just saved your butt kind of smile and I knew then that it was my heart that was at risk of being broken.