Nene tapped Richard on the shoulder, told him she was leaving and retired indoors. She knew that she would have another opportunity to ask more questions the following day.
One of her father’s friends was celebrating his 54th birthday in Agbor that Saturday, and Richard had volunteered to take her there. The man, Mr. Johnson would not have bothered celebrating 54. After all, most people threw parties to celebrate major milestones like 21, 30, 40, 50 and so on.
But Mr. Johnson had survived a major boat accident earlier that year, and felt that a party was in order.
Nene’s father would not be in attendance, but his daughter would represent the family. Chief Alozie and Auntie Dubem would also be out of town attending another function.
As soon as Nene entered the house, she went to the back of the house, where Auntie Dubem was sitting eating sugar cane. Nene greeted her, fetched her own plate, and joined her aunt to consume the sugar cane.
“Nene,” Auntie Dubem began, after spitting out the chaff from the chewed-up sugar cane, “That man you’re always going about with, what’s his name?”
“Richard, Auntie. His name is Richard,” Nene replied, before throwing a piece of sugar cane in her mouth. She was not surprised. She had expected her aunt to question her about her friendship with Richard and was ready with answers.
“So, what are the two of you doing together, ehn? You’ve been spending all this time with him, and you’ve been gallivanting all around Asaba together. Nene, I know I am not your mother, but I won’t open my eyes and keep quiet if I see something wrong happening to you.”
She paused. She did not expect a reply from Nene, but started coughing. Nene dived indoors for a glass of water. After drinking and clearing her throat, she continued.
“Now, this Richard, has he made his intentions known to you? I mean, has he asked for your hand in marriage?”
“Haba, Auntie! We’ve only known each other for four months, and you’re already talking about marriage. We are just friends.”
“You children don’t know anything. How long do you think it took before your uncle married me? Just two months. Marriage was his intention from day one, and he made it clear. He didn’t waste time at all. Nene, I don’t want this man to waste your time like that other Paul fellow. If a man wants you, he will make it clear.”
“Auntie, we are just friends. I’m not his girlfriend or anything and–“
“You see, that’s the problem. Anybody seeing the two of you together would think you were in a committed relationship, and you’re now telling me he is just a friend. Nene, it is a woman who determines the pace of a relationship, and she is the one who sets the boundaries too. With your mouth you’re saying you both share a casual friendship, but your actions tell a different story. Don’t let any man make a fool of you. I know not every man is upfront about his intentions like your uncle. Some men need a little push to make a commitment. This Richard fellow must decide whether he will commit himself to you or move on. If he has not raised this issue with you, then it is your duty to do so. Or else–“
And here, Auntie Dubem’s voice trailed off as she threw another piece of sugar cane into her mouth and chewed it with a rugged determination. It was like the words that should have come after “or else” were crushed with the pulp of the sugar cane and promptly discarded with the chaff.
Nene knew that what her aunt had said was true. She had thought about it many times, but each time the thought presented itself, she had pushed it farther and farther away into the recesses of her mind. It was something she was not willing to deal with simply because she was enjoying the steady pace of her friendship with Richard.
They were getting to know each other without the boyfriend-girlfriend tag, which in Nene’s opinion, could ruin everything. Their friendship was unhurried and she did not feel the pressure she had felt with her relationship with Paul. Until that evening with Aunty Dubem.
Why rock the boat?
Nene was sure that bringing up any talk about relationships or commitment with Richard would spoil the simple friendship they already had. Besides, wasn’t that his place? Why did she have to do a man’s job for him? And she did not want to repeat the same mistake she had made with Paul with any other man.
Certainly not with Richard.
Nene was forward, outspoken sometimes, and in the months after her breakup with Paul, she felt a deep sense of guilt for the way things had panned out between them. A part of her felt that her being too forward was to blame, and she had consciously tried to tone it down when she came to Asaba.
Poor Nene! If only she knew that there was no amount of ‘toning down’ her character that could have saved her relationship with Paul. They had already drifted apart before he went to Abuja, but she still held on to him like a drowning man clutching at straw.
For Paul, the physical distance between them was a manifestation of what was already going on emotionally. He had gone to Abuja thinking of starting afresh. It just so happened that it was Boluke who had walked into his life at a time when his own heart was searching for someone else. Nene with all her letter writing, phone calls and emails was fighting a lost battle.
But our dear Nene was not a mind reader. She only knew what she could see and understand. This revelation, of course, came later.
That evening with Auntie Dubem, she realized that her attempts to suppress her nature were failing. In fact, they had failed. The longer she sat there thinking about what her aunt had said, the more she realized that she had been the one deceiving herself.
There was nothing simple about her friendship with Richard. They had crossed the friend line a long time ago, but they never made it official. He never made it official.
“I’m not going to Agbor without a formal commitment. In fact, I’m not going anywhere without defining this yeye friendship. What would I even introduce him as? My friend? Let me not disgrace myself. I will confront him today.”
With her mind made up, Nene thanked her aunt for her advice and retired to her room. Once she was within the confines of her room, she sent Richard a text with the four words men do not like to hear:
We need to talk.
Nene had expected that Richard would reply with “Okay, we’ll discuss this tomorrow.” But she got a big shock when he replied with “Okay. Me too, I have something to say. Meet me outside your gate in five minutes.”
Five minutes? She had hoped for a meeting the following day so she could collect her thoughts and decide what to say. But now, five minutes?
“Well, there goes my plan,” she muttered to herself as she went to the designated meeting place.
– to be continued –