A few days later on a Saturday morning, Wale was seated at a table in Fingers, anxiously watching the entrance and awaiting Julie’s arrival. The place was quiet, as was normal for this time; most people would turn up later on in the day. He would usually be found relaxing with Chibuzor and some other mutual friends after the hard week of studies, but he had let Chibuzor know that he wouldn’t be able to make it today.
As he waited, he thought about the conversation that he’d had with Julie; he hadn’t given anything away, other than to say that he thought they should meet, because there was something he wanted them to talk about. Julie hadn’t treated his invitation as anything special. As far as she was concerned, they were just good friends, especially because he already had a girlfriend who already knew that Julie was his friend.
How ironic, he thought. Here he was again in a restaurant, waiting to talk to a girl about something that could change both their lives. This time, he hoped the outcome would be much happier.
Soon after, Julie strolled in. Wale caught his breath as he saw those brown eyes again, then his stare travelled all over her. She was looking radiant.
“Wale, how now?” Julie grinned as she took a seat opposite him. “Have you ordered anything yet?”
“That would be too ungentlemantly,” Wale said, smiling back. “The right thing to do is to wait till you show up. So what will you have?”
Julie said she would like a small meat pie and some fruit juice. Wale teased her for not eating real food; he was going to get a big plate of rice and dodo for himself, topped off with stew and chicken. When he returned from placing their order, he saw that she had switched seats. “It’s more interesting to look outside through the doors. I hope you don’t mind,” she said. Wale shook his head vigorously, indicating it was no problem at all.
Soon after, their order arrived. As they ate, Julie cocked her head to one side and asked, “So what’s happening? How are things with you and Kemi? What of Chibuzor? I don’t see him so much these days.”
Wale made a vague gesture. “You know Chibuzor… always busy with one DJ’ing session or the other. But he’s fine; in fact, I spoke to him just yesterday. So I’m sure he’ll get in touch with you soon, though.”
Julie laughed. “Get in touch? No-o, I was just asking. Actually…” and she paused, twisting her fingers uncertainly.
You want to say how much you love him, Wale thought with an inward sigh.
“Actually,” she went on, “I liked him very much when we first met. He’s good looking, and I found him funny when we first talked. But… I don’t know – I got the sense that he wasn’t too… interested, so…” she finished with a shrug.
While she was talking, Wale was trying hard to stop the incredulosity and excitement from showing. “So – what?” he blurted out.
“So water!” Julie laughed. “I can’t be running around chasing a man, like I’m some desperate girl. Maybe he has someone else, I don’t know. But let us leave Chibuzor alone. You were going to tell me about yourself and Kemi. Won’t she be jealous if she sees you and me together?” she asked, with a naughty smile.
“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.” Wale put on as grave a face as he could, and continued. “Kemi and I have split up.”
Julie’s mouth formed a round O. “Ah, Wale! I’m so sorry. Both of you were so well matched. What happened?”
Wale did not think it would help his case with Julie if he came across as a heartless dumper of girls. “Nothing, really. We just realised that there was no spark left in the relationship, and we felt it was best for us to go our separate ways.”
“Wow… I’m so surprised. So both of you just agreed to split up like that?”
“Yes.” Wale cursed inwardly at Julie’s persistence; this was not the discussion he wanted to be having. Time to firmly grab the steering wheel. “Honestly, I would prefer not to talk about it; it’s happened already, and it now belongs in the past.”
Julie nodded. “I understand. So, you’re back to being free and single. I’m sure all the girls on campus must be jubilating,” she added, jokingly.
“Julie, I’m in love with you.”
For the second time within the space of a few minutes, Julie was open-mouthed with astonishment.
“Yes, I really do mean it, Julie. Since the time I first met you five months ago, I have thought of nothing but hearing you, seeing you, being with you. I didn’t say anything at first, because I wanted to be sure that what I felt wasn’t just a passing fancy… but my feelings have only grown stronger as I have got to know you.
“Honestly, I can no longer go on with my life without letting you know how I feel about you, and that’s why I wanted to meet with you today.” He leaned forward and grasped her hand earnestly as he continued. “Julie, I don’t know how you feel about me, but I am hoping that you’ll give me a chance to show you how much I love you, and how much you can come to love me too.”
Julie was still staring, open-mouthed and wide eyed.
Wale was slightly perplexed, but he carried on still. “I know it’s somehow surprising, but I just decided that it was something I had to do. Sometimes, you just have to do what you know is right…” He looked at Julie again, and this time he noticed that yes, she was staring…
…but she wasn’t staring at him.
He looked over his shoulder, almost knowing what he was going to see before he had finished turning.
Kemi stood there, looking at him with an expression of unfathomable sadness. She was dressed as though she had just got out of bed; her hair was unkempt, and she had bags under her eyes. Wale was burning up slowly from the inside with embarrassment.
“So how are things, now? I wasn’t expecting… I mean, I thought you would be resting, since it’s the weekend… lectures have been very hectic…”
Confusion clouded Wale’s face. “W-why what?”
In response, Kemi slumped into a nearby chair, bent her head and started sobbing.
Wale stood up, not knowing whether he should go to her or not. What a catastrophe, he thought. How could he have known that Kemi would come here? She should be in her room, still mourning their break up. He should never have chosen to go to Fingers. This was the worst possible outcome of today’s meeting. Meanwhile, Julie glanced from the one to the other in growing alarm.
Kemi lifted her head, tears still streaming from her eyes. “Eh, Wale, is that what it was? You-you were seeing Julie all this while, pretending just to be friends, and on-once you were tired of me, you decided to-to dump me? Wha-what did I do to you for you to treat me this way, Wale? Eh? Why? Why, Wale?” she asked, her voice rising in pitch. She suddenly got up and started screaming. “It hasn’t even been long since you left me and you’re already seeing her freely! Like I am some… some rag that you can just throw away!”
The other patrons in the restaurant turned round at the sudden noise and gawped in curiosity, and the staff fidgeted nervously. Julie suddenly stood up and turned to Wale. “It looks like you have some unfinished business with your girlfriend – or ex-girlfriend, I don’t know. I thought you said that you had both agreed to go your separate ways? Anyway, let me leave you both to settle your matter.”
Wale was dumbstruck with despair. This was even worse than a catastrophe, he thought. As she started moving towards exit of the eatery, he tried to reach out to her, his eyes pleading. “Julie, wait. Please let me explain–”
But she brushed him aside contemptuously. “I think you should go and deal with your wahala first, before worrying about explaining.” And before he could say anything else, she had walked out.
Wale stared bleakly at the doors to the restaurant as they swung back. Then he turned round wearily to look at Kemi, who had stopped screaming, and was now sitting down muttering incoherently to herself.
“Kemi… Kemi… you need to go back to your room now.”
No response, just more muttering.
Wale bent closer to hear what she was saying, and then he realised that she probably wouldn’t be going back to her room for a long while…
“I’ve come to see Kemi Adegboyega, please.”
The nurse on duty at the front desk of the hospital checked a list, then looked up, all officious. “And you are?”
“A friend. I think these are visiting hours, not so?”
“Yes, but that doesn’t mean we just allow anyone to walk in. Sign here please, and wait.”
Wale signed, sat down on a nearby chair and waited as the nurse made a call on the intercom. He looked around. The hospital was small and quiet, but it looked clean and reasonably well equipped. He hoped that it was staffed with professionals who knew their jobs.
After a while, the nurse called out to him. “Someone was just finishing a visit. You can go and see her, now. Just go down that corridor and take the turning on your left. The room is the first on your right,” she said, gesturing.
As he walked down the corridor, he thought about his motives for coming to see her. Guilt? Very likely. Because he cared about her? Certainly. Because everyone expected him to? Maybe. Whatever the case, he was here, although he had no idea what he was going to say to her. Was she in a fit state to talk? It had only been a week after her breakdown, when he had had to follow her in a taxi to her house; his memory of the sight of her distraught parents still made him shudder. But they had been kind enough to give him the address of the hospital she had been committed to.
“So you are here.”
Wale was jerked out of his thoughts by the sight of Chibuzor emerging from the side corridor.
“Oh… so you are the visitor.” Wale was uncertain about how to respond; he had tried calling Chibuzor days after the incident, but his calls had not been answered. In fact, Chibuzor had gone to very great lengths to avoid him.
“Julie told me everything,” Chibuzor added, by way of explanation.
“Chi-boy, you have to understand,” Wale pleaded. “I did not expect Kemi to turn up at Fingers. Honestly, if I had known, I would not–”
“…been in a rush to see Julie, or misled her about the break up. Yes, I know.”
There was a moment of silence.
“So why have you been avoiding me? If you are mad at me, don’t you think it’s better to meet me and abuse me to my face? Yes, you can curse me and insult me, because I haven’t cursed and insulted myself enough since this happened. I haven’t gone over everything that happened that day over and over again, wishing I could stop the tape, rewind and edit. I haven’t–“
Chibuzor was holding his hand out with a pained expression on his face. “Wale, I told her that you were at Fingers.”
Wale stood still, rooted with shock.
Chibuzor looked down, sighed and went on. “I wasn’t going to see her so soon, but I was worried about how she was doing after your break up. So since you weren’t coming round on Saturday morning as usual, I thought I would go down to her room to see. Well, all she could talk about was you, you, you. She kept on asking what she had done wrong, and how she couldn’t go on without you, and how she’d tried to reach you, and maybe if she could talk to you again, things would be sorted out, and… you get the idea.
“Anyway, she asked if I knew where you were, and I remembered that we had spoken the day before, and you said something about going to Fingers the next day.” He turned angrily to Wale. “Why didn’t you tell me it was Julie you were going there to meet? I didn’t even know that you were interested in her.”
Embarrassed, Wale said, “I don’t know… I didn’t feel comfortable with you knowing until I had made my move.”
Chibuzor’s eyes returned to the floor. “I just thought if she met you again and you told her once and for all that the relationship was ended, her eyes would clear. If I had known that you had gone there to meet Julie, I would never have said she should go. But even then, looking back, I can see that I was not thinking straight at all. That was the stupidest thing I could have done. If only I had known…” He finished with a deflated sigh.
“But why didn’t you tell me before this? I had been calling you since…”
“To be honest, at first, I was too angry with you to speak to you. But in the end, I thought – how can I accuse you and not accuse myself?”
Wale reached out and hugged his friend. “Sorry, Chi-boy. I know how much you love her. I wish things had turned out differently. Maybe things will still turn out right.” He pointed towards the corridor that Chibuzor had just emerged from. “How is she?”
“She’s… recovering. From what I hear, some days are better than others. When I left, she had slept off.”
“I guess there’s no point in me going in there, then. Let me follow you out.”
As they walked towards the exit, Wale thought about the quandarilateral that was no more, and the unexpected way it had untangled. He knew that he would think about the events of the day for many days to come. But now, he was just glad that of all the relationships that has been shattered in the last week, he still had his friendship with Chibuzor.