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Tuesday, 8 March 2016

FAIV --by Kreed

four characters, different stories, one umbrella...

Empty: that was the feeling. It was a sunny day and there I was, nailed to the spot, unable to feel my legs, becoming a prey for the sun’s wrath. But somehow, I preferred the heat to the feeling of emptiness that overwhelmed me. I waved, just as my eyes began quenching the earth’s thirst with tears but she didn’t look back. She was my closest friend, if not my best. She meant a whole lot to me and I believe she felt same towards me.

That was two years ago, the last time I saw her. Yet still, I remember her smile, her scent, her every detail. And what’s worse, I still remember that day. It’s the one page in my life story that I can’t just rip off. We were supposed to go on a date that day, it was going to be my first but life had other arrangements, as her family was moving the same day. It’s funny how things could turn from good to bad with just a finger snap. “We’ll see again,” she had whispered, as she gave me a tight hug. I held unto her words, it was a promise. Two years later, it was still unfulfilled. I always believed we were going to meet again but my friend, Okoro, always told me I was just being stupid and that I should move on…I chuckled. Okoro was right, for the first time though. I felt very stupid as I continued to stare at her wedding pictures. I could feel a piercing pain in my heart. Broken twice, by the same person, I was indeed a fool. I got to hear the news through Facebook. Now, I understood why she suddenly stopped replying my messages and responding to my calls. The last time we spoke was seven months ago. Three weeks ago, I saw this picture. She couldn’t even tell, she didn’t respect me enough to. I started secluding myself from social gatherings and Okoro noticed. We both knew why, so he came up with a plan; a date. “Look Olatunji, there is this girl you have to meet; Chinyere is the name.  She’s a fine girl; she’s tall, has a beautiful light skin that will make the Kardashians run for cover, she’s slim with beautiful eyes and oh…” he whispered, “ she has that hour-glass figure.” But I was barely listening. “Sometimes I wish she wasn’t my cousin.” He continued. I laughed, I couldn’t help it. “Olatunji listen,” he continued, “I know you had feelings for this girl, err…can’t even remember her name. Whatever but the truth is, she’s gone.” he noticed me glare at him but he ignored me. “You have to move on. You’ve wasted two years of your life already, don’t waste another second on her, she’s married, so get on with your life!” He then proceeded to fill me in on the plan to meet Chinyere. Now, here I am, in a cafĂ© called Faiv. We had scheduled the date for 5pm but I was here earlier, as always. I looked at my watch, 4:58pm, Chinyere was going to be here soon. Just then, the man at table 5 got up. I rushed to the table, “Faiv by 5 at 5.” I had an opening statement for Chinyere. If my hands could go round my back, I would give myself a pat.

I stared at the wedding picture one last time, it was the last picture of her I had on my phone, I spent most of last night staring and deleting the rest. Janet, her name is Janet…I deleted the picture. It was time to move on.   

“I wonder if she ever got an award for this.” She said, staring at an amazing architectural design across the road. “Yes she did, a ‘Nobel prize for Architecture’.” I chirped in. “Sorry I didn’t see you there and I wasn’t talking to you.” She replied, visibly annoyed by my response. “Oh trust me dear, you don’t have to talk to me to get a response from me. I’m Jimmy by the way.” I offered her a handshake but she looked at my outstretched arm and then walked into the building.

We were posted to the same firm. Of course, we hardly spoke to each. If we ever did, it was straight to the point official affairs. Our boss had to send us to separate units, to avoid more personality conflicts. We got a lot of queries too. We were both good at what we did, though we never acknowledged each others’ efforts or productivity, probably the reason our boss never sent us packing.

So how did we become so close, so inseparable? Emm...how did it even happen again? Oh! I remember. It was here, at Faiv. I had come in to grab some burgers. Just as I stepped in, I saw her..."Is she crying?" I remember asking myself. She quickly whipped her tears when she saw me but I pretended like I didn't see her. I got my burgers and a pack of 5Alive. As I approached the door, I paused for a moment and had a rethink of my action. Then I sighed heavily, walked back to the counter and ordered a plate of Ice cream and a pack of patchi chocolate. Reluctantly, I walked to her table. I dropped the ice cream on her table and she looked up. She gave me 'the look', and then ignored me. I almost threw the plate right on her face but I restrained myself. The urge to walk away was almost unbearable but again, I ignored my instincts and took a seat opposite her. She still gave me the ghost treatment then I said to her, "Look, I know I'm supposed to take pleasure in seeing you in pain or tears..." I paused for a reaction from her but I got none, "...but for some reasons, I don't…at least for today. I just want to let you know that whatever it is that's hurting you right now, Jesus is going to help you overcome such." I couldn't believe I used that name, I hardly mentioned the name and there I was, using it to console the person I despised the most. "Plus, beautiful girls..." I choked in continuation, "...shouldn't cry." I waited for about two minutes but she still ignored me. While I waited for a response, I did actually stare at her for a while and she was indeed beautiful. Snap out of it Johnson, she hates you remember? I quickly reminded myself. "Look, if you continue to ignore me, I'll just finish this plate of ice cream I bought for you." I threatened about three minutes later but still got the silent treatment. By this time, she had stopped sobbing and had begun meddling with her phone. I was beginning to lose patience but I still composed myself. I opened the plate and began eating the ice cream. It was strawberry flavoured and it wasn't my favourite but it was the only flavour they had left. Seven scoops later and I decided it was not worth it. I covered the ice cream and I opened the trash can beside the table, then I heard, "Wait!"… it was her.  "Who throws a plate of ice cream away?" I just starred at her, my face showing no emotions. I offered her the plate and she grabbed it. "I just wanted to be sure you didn't lace it with poison." she said. "Who poisons a plate of ice cream?" I responded and she smiled, I smiled back. "By the way, I'll need another plate." she added and she noticed my smile disappeared. "Never mind." she chipped in. We got talking, then one hour passed, two, three...we spent almost five hours there. The next day after work, we came to Faiv and we visited again the day after. It soon became a ritual and '5 by 5', was now our thing. As the days went by, we got closer and closer and soon, we became inseparable. Soon, she started coming over to my place and I to hers. After our service year, I got retained by the firm. She was too but she opted to go for her masters degree. She got admission into University of Liverpool. The night before she left, we met here, at Faiv and we sat at table 5...coincidence huh? She gave me a kiss, it was the first time I tasted her lips. She asked me to wait for her, she said she was going to be gone for just a year. I told her I was ready to wait for more than a year…for her. We kissed again.

All these were memories now, scenes that plagued my mind every day. I was suddenly distracted from my thoughts by a development, about three tables away from mine. Four friends; three guys and a lady, were hugging each other so tightly. I presume they hadn’t seen each other in ages. The lady was in tears. It was beautiful to watch. I also noticed something else at another table; an elderly man rose and left his table but another man, much younger than him, quickly moved in and occupied the table. Maybe he attached special significance to the table.
That was like Laura and I, three years ago but fate had different plans for us and now, she was no more. She had finalised her master's programme and she was coming home...to me. I still remember that day, I thought my wait had finally come to an end, my Laura was coming back but fate had other plans...Oh, why did the plane have to crash? My life hasn't been the same ever since, I'm yet to move on, I'm yet to recover from the news. I feel tear drops streaming from my eyes. To this day and probably till eternity too, I still feel very empty without her. I've changed jobs, cities, entered several relationships but all to no avail. “She was the one! She was the one!” I remind myself every day. Tomorrow I'll be leaving the country to Holland, with the hope that I'll finally move on with my life. I checked my watch and it was 5:08pm. A lady opened the entrance door, she smiled but not at me but at the guy at table 5. I grab my car keys and head for the door. "Laura will probably be the only one." I remind myself.

"Come on dear, stop being so emotional. Distance can't break this bond." Shola had said. "We will meet again soonest, it is just a one year programme", Ibikunle added. This was before our NYSC programme. Shola, Ibikunle, Gambo and I had attended the same University; University of Nsukka. We first met during the freshers' orientation and we instantly became The Four Musketeers on campus even when we were in separate departments. I was the only girl in the clique. I still remember the first time we came here, I vividly remember our purpose. Gambo had challenged Ibikunle to a drinking duel, "Whoever finishes 5 bottles of Guinness first without getting drunk gets 5k from the loser." "5k!" exclaimed Ibikunle, whose second name was 'Money', "I'll finish 10 for 2.5k"(naah, he couldn't!). Just then, Shola added, "And I know the perfect spot for this challenge. There’s a restaurant I discovered yesterday, it's called 'Faiv'. We should all meet there tomorrow by 5pm" As if on cue, we all stared at him. "Brilliant!" Gambo exclaimed, he was the lousy one by the way. I smiled, as I reminisced. Gambo was from the North but was brought up in the East, which explained his lousy trait. "Just keep my 5k." Ibikunle said.

Well, the next day was one we would never forget in a hurry, at least not for Ibikunle and Gambo, but for Shola and I as we had to carry two drunkards back to their respective abodes. Yes, they both failed. I laughed this time, uncontrollably too. I could notice some eyes stare at me but I ignored them. After that day, Faiv became our base and soon we started sitting only at table 5 and that's how we got our signature phrase "Faiv by 5 at 5."
That was three years ago, that was before that fight broke us. Just a week before departing for our NYSC programme, Ibikunle accused Gambo of flirting with his girlfriend at the time. It wasn't true of course, I can't remember how he came to that conclusion. I'm glad I don't, because it ruined what we had, it ruined our friendship. Gambo was a flirt though. I still remember Shola ('the peacemaker', as we fondly called him), being punched in the eye while trying to separate the two friends. He got up quietly and walked away. It wasn't silence, it was anger. He hasn't said a word to us since then. I tried to make peace between Gambo and Ibikunle but it backfired horrendously, as each party accused me of picking sides. Well that was the last straw.
God I miss them. After service Gambo got a job in Bayelsa in the company he served. Shola, went solo, he ventured into the agricultural business and he’s doing great. Ibikunle and I travelled out for our Masters, to different countries however. His was a scholarship. He came back about six months ago after he rounded up his programme and he got a job even before he set his foot on Nigerian soil. And I? Well, I got a job...outside the shores of Nigeria, which is great but yet still, I know I’m missing something…My three best friends. What I feared the most was already aggravating the scars we each had...Distance. Sometimes I wonder if they even think of me or keep track of my progress, like I do with them. I almost cry as more fun memories flood my mind. "We'll meet again soonest," they said, but it's been three years since we last said any word to each other.

Today, I was at Faiv, alone...not on table 5 but at table 2. An elderly man got to the table first, he looked really sad. To be honest, everyone here looked unhappy, except the guy at table 6. They were just four customers here today. I was the only girl. The old man got up from his table and as he walked past me, I noticed his eyes were teary. I feel an urge to move to table 5 but the guy who was on table 6 reacted quickest. Anyway, I loved the view the table offered. It was just by the window. And one can spot the Halifax building from here, an architectural wonder.
That was by the way. I checked my watch; it was a minute to 5pm. I picked up my half-filled glass of smoothies and took a sip. Just then, my phone buzzed. A message, but whose number is this? I asked myself. I open the message and it read, "That's not our table you pumpkin...lol." I began to gaze around the room and then suddenly, my eye caught three figures outside the window. I smiled as tear formed in my eyes.

It was a cold Saturday evening. It had rained almost all through morning and afternoon, it seemed like my Christian friends had sang the “Let it rain” praise song the night before. I had just finished preparing fura for Ibrahim and Halima and was about settling down to read the day’s dailies, when I heard a knock on my door. I remember asking myself why visitors always came around every time I wanted to rest. It was always irritating. As I unlocked the door, standing in front of me was a man who had been soaked not just only by the rain but by his tears too. He had looked like a man who just escaped from a kidnapper’s den. I tried to invite him in but his facial expression unsettled me. I knew he had bad news, I was anxious to hear him but reluctant to ask.  It was Ailero, my wife’s brother.

The growing silence got awkward and as I was about to ask but he cut me short, “It’s A-i-sha,” he stuttered, “She was involved in accident. Shh-ee, ermmm.” “Ailero is she okay?!” I screamed, I was becoming restive and I had grown impatient with the suspense. “No sir,” he added, more tears streaming from his eyes, “She isn’t. She passed away just before she got to the hospital.”
I stood there motionless, as my brain tried desperately to comprehend the news. I could see Ailero’s lips move but I couldn’t hear him. My legs suddenly felt weak and it collapsed under my body weight.
That was 20 years ago, when my beloved Aisha passed away. I remember those early years after her death, it was quite challenging. Raising our two kids alone was quite a task and there was pressure from friends and family for me to remarry. Even when she was alive, I was scorned by most for having just one wife as most of my friends had more than a wife. My junior brother, Kazeem, had three wives. But I couldn’t share the love I had for Aisha with another woman. I was able to surmount it all eventually. I decided to visit this Faiv today because it’s probably the last time I’ll do so. I’ll be moving to Kaduna tomorrow, to my village. It was where I was groomed before I moved after I was posted here by my firm. It was in this restaurant that I met Aisha. I wish I could travel down memory lane but I know it’ll bring me tears. We came a couple more times before and after our marriage and we were even here a day before she died in that ghastly motor accident. I took out my handkerchief and wiped my eyes. Ever since then, I’ve always come here to mark her death anniversary, alone. I checked my watch; it was almost 5’o clock. We always tried to ensure that we sat at table 5, though we weren’t successful sometimes. But today, I was seated at table 5. I remember how excited she always was when we succeeded at securing the table before anyone else. I poured out the last juice from the juice pack into my glass. I emptied the glass within seconds and dropped it on the table. I got up briskly, trying desperately to cover my teary eyes from the other faces around the restaurant. “Old memories, past glories but I’ll forever treasure those moments.” I said inaudibly, as I walked out of Faiv for the last time.

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