August 10th 1985
The night was deep, and as I moved on, the briny sea air permeated my nostrils. The moon shone brightly and the stars glistened, yet neither was enough to illuminate my path. A bottle of vodka in hand, I slipped away from the lights and sounds of the party-unnoticed, into the sparsely-populated rocky shore. I jumped at the sound of my feet cracking a sea shell before I realized what it was. I had every reason to be scared. It was dark, and I’d never been to this side of the beach. Asides, first time jittery, there was also the possibility of wild beasts lurking. Impossible! I resolved over a loud snort and laughed at the foolishness of my thoughts. There was no way wild animals would dwell on a frequently visited beach!’ I thought; either from the heady effect of the alcohol, or because this place didn’t have an eerie feel to it.
In languid pace, I walked on into the darkness with myself for company, enjoying the quiet interspersed by my slow breathing and the crunch of twigs and seashells under my feet. I loved the feel of it. Most of all, I loved getting the solitude I ached for. I wanted to be alone; I needed to clear my head. Who am I kidding? Truth is I was hiding from facing my truth and shame!
I quickened my steps as the sinking of my feet in sand and the roar of the sea lets me know I am close to the beach. I stop a few feet away and watch as the waves ebbed at my feet, causing them to sink some more. Finally, I gave in to my wobbly legs, and laughed at my silliness as I sunk to the ground, liking the way my hair whipped wildly around my face in the wind. I was dead drunk, I knew this. And with opened arms, I welcomed the feel of the cool night breeze, ignoring the accompanying chill, and then took a swig of vodka.
I shot a brief glance at the party I left behind. The light from the resort was visible from here, winking in and out as the breeze made the palm fronds sway, reminding one of a lighthouse lamp. Sadly, there was no safe homecoming for me. More likely with the riptide in my heart, I was destined to crash. .
I turned back to the spread of water and inhaled deeply, hoping to ease internal turmoil. It worked! Spell bound in tranquility and an intense refreshing waft of nature, it did work. Until the plaguing return of guilt like some terminal illness, knocking out every bit of relief, and leaving in replacement the demeaning feel of self-disgust. My stomach churned a protest, an effect of both combinations of liquor and sheer embarrassment.
I’ve had my fill of vodka. I knew it, but took another swig of the bottle anyway, praying for the blissful unconsciousness inebriation causes. I had to forget. I needed to forget the look in those eyes. My God! What was I thinking? More like, why was I not thinking? I took another gulp of vodka and winced, dropping the bottle with a little more force than necessary as the hot drink burned down my throat. My eyes were misty when I opened them. Good! If shedding some tears would grant me relief, I would gladly succumb.
Someone was coming and whoever it was, was definitely making a lot of noise. I turned around to see who it was, and watched a tall dark figure come out of the trees. I could not clearly make out the face in the dark, but I knew that build anywhere. It was Bayo, the cause of my misery. Undoubtedly, he had followed me here. I wonder why though. My solitude certainly had come to an end, and it was time to face the music. I turned back to the sea surprisingly unremorseful. Bayo had better not bring up that topic, or demand to know if I had meant it when I said I loved him, because surely he had heard the last of it. Quietly, he lowered and sat beside me, took the bottle of vodka off my hand as I lifted it to my lips, and had a sip, before passing it back to me.
Time passed as we stared ahead in uncomfortable silence filled with the lapped sounds of the ocean. My senses were clouded; my flow of thoughts and speech cut by the heady combination of his manly, yet appealing scent and the strong whiff of extravagant cologne. I stole a peek at his chiseled face; expressionless as usual. My eyes lingered a bit on those firm lips. Tearing my gaze away before he catches me ogling him. I turned and redirected my thoughts, surprised at where it was headed. That was the very last thing I should think of, not after what had happened. I guess I did not realize the gravity of the situation. You see, I told my friend’s fiancé, just a few moments back, that I love him. Always have. Always will! Yes you read right, my friend’s fiancé and worse, at his bachelor’s party. Life surely is unfair.
I took another gulp of vodka and choked on it. Bayo immediately took the bottle away from me, and placed it beside him, well out of my reach. Now he stared into my eyes as I recovered from the sting in my throat. An expression crossed his face. I was both mortified and angered by it. I do not need his pity, neither was I angry he didn’t love me in return. I was only mad at myself for letting him in on my secret.
A pained expression crossed Bayo’s face as he drew close. My first inclination was my thoughts. Perhaps, my alcohol hazed mind playing tricks again. Except it wasn’t. Bayo was close, so much that I could breathe and feel the heat emitting from his skin. I froze, un-daring a move, for fear of breaking whatever spell we both were lost in. My heart like some crazed ethereal drum, beat in anticipation, and my head and nerves danced to it.
Suddenly, his lips came on mine. I stiffened, at the unexpectedness, but soon kicked a greedy response to his demanding claim. My lips under his insistent ones, parted like a curled petal awaiting sunshine. And this was sunshine. My long awaited sunshine. I clung unashamedly to him, shimmering from the intense intimacy. The kiss was matched with equal fervor, each taking and giving with swelling hunger. Time blurred as it deepened. I wished it would never end. And it didn’t.
In moments, our clothes were tossed, and each on wavering breaths, met his needs. If this was a dream I didn’t want to wake up.
I awoke to the noisy buzz of the land phone and reached groggily for it, squinting at rays of sunlight that stole in through the blinds. Pfft, Morning!
Times like this was when I wished the phone was situated elsewhere and not my room, but then my sister Yemi never earned as much calls as I did.
‘Hello.” I whispered groggily, and my eyes jut alert as Tania’s voice came on, sending my heart overdrive. I shot from the duvet alert, shocked, and somewhat dizzy from the escalating pain in my head. Its pound plus the persistent ring almost equaled that of a sledgehammer hitting against metal. Frantically, I pulled a hand through my disheveled hair in habitual response to fear and swallowed the suffocating clog of panic in my throat.
“Hello.” She called again, out of fear, I slammed the phone shut as my throat suddenly went dry.
God! I chanted on close lids, desperately wanting this to be unreal as the buzz started again. Finally, it stopped. In sync the ache receded. Slowly, I opened my eyes, gave off a deep release of inadvertently held breath and continued the vainly administered massage on my temple. The little thread of relief fled as the phone started again. I shuddered. Tania knew. Her persistent calls were enough attestation to it.
How would I face her? What excuse was justifiable for my wrongs? Some sins are unforgivable. Betrayal clearly was one.
As the buzz seized, I resorted to a heartfelt prayer, hoping my plea would be heard, and she’d stop calling. For a moment, it seemed to work. Time passed in silence except for the steady strokes of my grand-father clock which hung majestically on the wall ( a steady reminder of the man). And for the first time since awakening, I felt the ebb of tension. But the ache remained. Wincing, I settled against the bedpost feeling hung-over; the inescapable penance for binge drinking.
The phone started again. My heart sunk at the face of a harsh reality. Eventually, I would have to face Tania. What safer time than an over the phone lambaste? In resignation, I reached shakily for the receiver and answered. I braced myself for an outburst. Surprisingly, in contrast to my expectation, Tania sounded ecstatic, but first asking if I was okay. “Yes I am. Just a bit under the weather.” I lied. And stupefied, I listened to her playfully order me to her suite, and ended the call with a tersely mustered “okay.” The call was impossible. Tania’s happiness was too good to be true. She probably had a trick up her sleeves. A physical maim perhaps.
But then, it was her big day. For a moment, it had skipped my mind. Too much booze, I could hear uncle in his thick dialectal voice. Undoubtedly, he’d go berserk if he knew of my heartfelt confession to Bayo last night, and the mere thoughts of his rebuke scared me, especially knowing what was as stake. Now here was my dilemma, not only am I betrothed to the son of the wealthiest farmer in the neighbouring town, myself and my sister Yemi are currently pursuing degrees in the university thanks to the same family. The house, the comfortable life-style and everything were being paid for and I had cheaply given it all away for a blast from the past. Sigh!
At the embarrassing memory of it, I slid into bed, and hid myself under the covers. Despite the haze and fuddle of the previous night, I vividly recollected his reaction to those eight mortifying words. In my head, I saw the wide gape of those lips, and the shock in those eyes. I cringed at its memory and at the sudden rush in my loins. I could do anything to retrieve those words. Except it was impossible.
I coursed with relief, remembering the nasty dream I’d been awoken from. Sex with Bayo was not real, I knew. But it had felt strangely real. Those soft whispered kisses, those magical hands and its firm touch. I shuddered from a sudden elicited emotion.
Reality struck, and I bolted out of bed. Sex with Bayo was no dream! On a stifled gasp, I saw the real events unfold in my mind. How could I have slept with my friend’s husband on her wedding eve?! I shivered at the realization, and launched into a frantic pace, unsuccessfully pushing against the thoughts of the beautiful love making and badly wishing it was unreal. Its memory conjured a stir. I halted on stamped foot. Sex! I told myself. Plain, mind blowing sex was all it was. A tiny voice in my head screamed for more. I turned to the giant mirror, but spun almost instantaneously away from it. I couldn’t bear a look at that face. It was a betrayer’s. How would I face Tania? How would I face Bayo?How could I face Femi my soon-to-be husband and my family? I dashed to a seat and perched with my head bowed.
It was Bayo’s fault. He had made the first move; he had instigated that shattering kiss that had rendered me helpless, and responding to his touch. I shuddered again. Not of pain, but excitement as my vivid memory reminded me of his hands; His slightly callused hands which brought nothing short of pleasure to my body.
Damn the alcohol! I’d never been good with it. That, and the unsubtle hit of Bayo’s marriage, even worse, to my friend Tania, had influenced my outburst.
See Bayo and I were childhood friends, we’d both had what you’d refer to as ‘humble beginnings’and had met at my late soon-to-be Father-in-law’s farm. Bayo’s big break had come when he’d won a scholarship abroad for studies, and mine when the son of the wealthy Mr Longe had taken interest in me, shouldering my responsibility and my families as though they were as his. Due to his involvement in my life, I owe my University education to, and my sister Yemi.
And then I had met Tania in second year of study, who also happened to hail from the same town, except she was raised in Lagos city, and was of more reputable background. Now that I think of it, perhaps fate or ill luck must have brought us together as friends.
In all three years of friendship, we’d been aware that Tania was betrothed to a man overseas, but never in a million years would I have thought it was my Bayo, and so when the man in question had finally returned home for marriage, you can only imagine my shock on seeing it was the same man that I loved and have always loved.
Bayo was as much surprised as I was seeing as I was friends with Tania, but then it was indeed a small world and then there were only about a couple of good university’s in the West. But then, none of that mattered, as back at home, Bayo and I had been nothing but close friends. And I should have left it as that; I should never have told him of my silly childhood crush, or that at some point as workers at Longe’s farm, I had grown to love him and had thought he would be mine someday.
Perhaps if only he’d had an inkling, if only by African culture I was allowed a proper expression of my feelings. Except I am female, enslaved by tradition, posit to moon for the male’s first move, (which sadly for the unlucky majority was from the unfancied). Grrr! Maybe he would have betrothed me before his trip and returned for me instead; me who had known him when he had nothing, me who had supported him and encouraged his scholarship and dreams, and not Tania, whom after deep thoughts I realize had never really revealed how they had met, and in spite of learning about past friendship, had further chosen to keep it a secret.
Bayo too had followed suit. And obviously, I had been the fool, thinking at some point that to him I meant way more, that I was the real deal, the friend he’d never dare mess with or cause a heart break. The woman whose friendship he’d never jeopardize. I’d had it so bad, I had forced my subconscious into believing an attraction from his end. Pfew! I should have moved on. But I didn’t. Not even when Tania had introduced him as ‘her man’. Instead, I had fronted nonchalance to them. I couldn’t have done otherwise, not even if I wanted to, because I was with Femi, bound to him by oath and purchased loyalty, plus he was the one man whose love I was certain of. Though my relationship with Femi was not outright devious, but it sure was for the wrong reasons. Loneliness was one major. I couldn’t have kept my life on hold for a man whose return I was unsure about. A second option was only sensible. So I had settled for Femi; the one who adores and literally kisses my feet.
Maybe If I had foreseen the future, I may have babbled a confession to Bayo a long time ago. But like every area where he was concerned, I was a clutter. Pointedly, I am happy for the couple. Truthfully, I was. But a little twinge of jealousy could not be erased. I wish it was me. Sadly, wishes were not enough.
Again about wishes, I should have stayed off the bachelor’s party! I should have kept mute and not spilled my love for Bayo, but for the bunch of crazed females in snug explicit wears, hovering seductively over him. Jealousy of course plus alcohol had spurred the senseless argument, and the revelatory outburst. And Sex added to the list, worsened the already bad situation. Grrr!
Enough of the pity party! I mentally chided, and dragged myself into the shower. I certainly could not hide from Bayo, although I’d rather flee if it were possible. But that wasn’t an option. My only choice was facing it head on, and I would with denial.
I took a hurried shower. It helped ease the ache. Dressed in jeans and tee shirt, I pulled to the mirror to brush my shoulder length natural hair, carefully dragging my comb through it and wincing as it hurt my scalp a little, before securing it in a bun. A moment longer, I let my gaze linger on my voluptuous frame, and wondering as I walked out the door, why it had never appealed to Bayo. Bag in hand, shoes in the other, I dashed to the door and threw a groggy Yemi a hurried greeting on my way out, knowing I must fix things lest I deprived her of her dreams which she was only beginning to achieve.
Moments later, I arrived at Tania’s suite, took a couple of deep breaths, and knocked with some trepidation. At the third rap, the door opened to Peju’s accusatory glare. Her eyes flicked over in a quick study. “Didn’t you sleep?” she frowned.
‘’And you’re late.” I heard Tania call from behind.
Peju’s embrace was brief as she let me in.“Don’t worry about those eye bags. It’s nothing makeup can’t conceal.” she spoke consolatory.
Great! Like it could conceal my turmoil. Makeup for me had never been an indulgence. Peju however was such a sworn addict, and for her, it now paid off. A couple years back, she’d decided to go solo, had dumped a well-paid career for uncertainty. We were scared for her, and we’d voiced it. But our fears were laid to rest by her garnered success in just few months, proving right that popular saying ‘with drive, passion and persistence, anything is achievable.’
Tania turned with that famed endearing smile as she heard me. With a loud squeal, she dashed and squashed me in a hug. I felt the pang of conscience, listening to her trill about leaving spinsterhood, and her admission of jitters. In a voice unfamiliar to me, I heard myself assure her that it was normal. My heart screamed a silent apology as she pulled apart, beaming with innocence. I winced guiltily. She noticed.
“Are you okay?”
“Ermm….Headache.” I lied. It wasn’t a total fabrication. It just wasn’t the reason for my pains.
“She had more than enough booze.” Peju chipped as she sat on the bed.
Tania sounded a childlike giggle “I warned you about going to that party. Didn’t I?” She made a face and poked me in the ribs. She did warn me.
“So, tell me. What happened?” her eyes again twinkled.
“If you’re smart Olaide, you would not answer that.”
Tania threw Peju a scowl, but turned back to me to with a smile.
God! That innocent stare!
“Nothing.” I insisted on averted gaze.
Her brows raised in a silent nudge.
“Really, there was nothing. Just fun.” I risked a quick look with a smile not quite reaching my eyes.
Certain of my adamancy on the issue, She walked away hissing. Her glum soon lifted as she stared dreamily out the window. I felt a twinge of jealousy at her glow. I turned, and caught the most beautiful sight of all-the dress. Its sheer lace was sewn to perfection, its soft glitter in the light screamed elegance, and its cinched waist gave an illusion of a tinier waist. It would fit Tania perfectly. For a second I wished it were mine.
The hotel’s phone rang, and Tania dashed to it. From the even wider spread of her lips as she called into the speaker, I knew who it was. Only he made her giddy. I crossed to sit with Peju, feigning disinterest to Tania’s conversation. Half mindedly, I listened to Peju’s description of the bride’s look and the complimentary shades on her fair toned skin.
What do I care about crease colour and smokey eyes? But to keep her engaged, I nodded, and listened to her continuous spill about makeup. I didn’t understand it, and wasn’t interested either. I stuck to the basics-powder and a bit of lip-gloss, and that was fine. But the other stuffs, they seemed unnecessary, and time consuming. Not that I ever criticize those with a flair for it. For the sake of it, I even own a kit, and let Peju work on my face sometimes to make her happy. The result truthfully was astonishing. I just wasn’t a fan. Period!
My heart stopped at the drop of my name from Tania’s lips. I sat ramrod straight, tensed, and alert to her every word. Desperately wanting to dissipate, I shut my eyes. They flung open as Peju jibbed, and I leaned uninterestedly to see the varying makeup looks as she thumbed through a catalogue of her works. Peju seemed to have made a name for herself, by being one of the most revered makeup artists in the movie industry.
“Olaide” Tania called.
I swallowed, and answered on a pitched voice too strange to be mine.
“Please, could you help me with something?”
I turned, and breathe in relief. She had her puppy eyed look. All was well.
“I forgot the rings. Could you please help me get them from home, and give to Bayo?” she pleaded. “I would have asked mum to get it but she wouldn’t know where I kept it.”
I shrugged “But Bayo can get them at the venue.”
“Yes, true.” She thought for a while “but he asked you to bring it for him. I don’t know.”
“Please…” she spoke, batting her lashes. On some other occasion, that might have resulted in a hearty laugh. But today was off.
Usually, I wouldn’t have given Tania’s demand a second thought. But given the circumstance, I couldn’t help feel Bayo had devised a reason to see me. How could I refuse Tania? She would figure something was wrong if I did? Peju’s stare already was assessing.
“Okay.” I answered and listened to the locations of the rings.
Just as I walked out, she called after me. “Tell Bayo I love him.” I nodded, trying to garner as much courage as I could before seeing Bayo.