She was familiar with the aisles within the bookshop and so the idea was to head straight to the section for Children’s Adventure, pick up the items she wanted, make payment, head back to her car and beat the afternoon Victoria Island traffic. She knew that the bookstore had its fair share of patronage, however on a Thursday afternoon; she relied on the confidence that the store would be empty. Indeed, her schedule was going according to the plan till she got to the payment counter and met a long queue ahead of her.
Taking decisive strides towards the counter, she stepped up behind the last person on the queue with a basket containing the books she had picked out in her hands. She counted a total number of twelve people before her on the queue and mumbled in frustration. She did not know she had mumbled out loud.
“Well, everyone was thinking like you…they all thought no one would come out to a bookstore on a busy Thursday afternoon.” She heard the man in front of her say but he had not turned to face her.
“Excuse me, were you talking to me?”
He let out a soft laugh and turned to face her, “I will always recognise your voice even if I was in Antarctica.”
Her face was a mixture of shock, surprise, amazement, laughter, sadness all at once.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost. It’s just me, Soji.”
“Yeah…yeah, I know…hi, I mean hello, Soji.”
“Teju, you really look like you saw a ghost. Is my presence seriously rattling you? I apologise.”
She noticed that he still had that boyish smile dancing around his lips and his dimples seemed to have sucked in deeper into his cheekbones. On a normal day, she would have gone on her tiptoes and plastered a kiss on his lips without a second thought.
The thought left a blush on her cheeks and she felt her eyes twinkle. She knew her eyes twinkled because he was the only one who was able to have that effect on her.
“Your eyes look like stars” She heard the guy opposite her say.
“Like stars, really? Soji, is that your pick-up line?”
He laughed out so loud she was sure she heard his stomach grumble. “Omolewa, you really think I am trying to pick you up?”
“My first name is Tejumade. Why are you calling me Omolewa, dude?”
“Your middle name is Omolewa and I love the name. It means a child is beauty and honestly, you are beauty personified.”
She tried not to give out a smile but her face betrayed her.
“See…….your eyes are twinkling like stars again. I could drown just staring into your eyes.”
“Soji, you are embarrassing me.” She found herself laughing. “This is like our first time meeting…like a first date. Chill bro!”
“If you have any idea the thoughts I have towards you, you won’t call me bro, you this babe. And really, you know I like you plus we’ve been talking over the phone for months now. I don’t think we are strangers.”
“Are you asking me out?”
“Am I doing a good job at it? Please, tell me I am not embarrassing myself and my future generations?”
She laughed out loud.
“Your eyes are twinkling again. Why do I feel like I am the one having that effect on you? I make your eyes twinkle like stars and it is really a sight to behold.” He had a satisfied and accomplished smile on his face.
“So, Disney Classics, huh?”
She knew he was referring to the books in her basket.
“Yeah, they are for one little angel like that as a birthday gift. She just started reading on her own and I felt Enid Blyton’s books are still a bit advanced for her.”
“Four years. She turns four this Sunday.”
“And you are getting the little princess books?”
“Well, it is never too early to engage them.”
She prompted him to move forward on the queue; he was next in line on the check-out counter. He placed three hardcover novels and one animal kingdom pop-up book on the counter.
“Frank E. Peretti and Mario Puzo, uhn?!” She commented.
“You know those are my boys now.”
“Thought you had read all their books.”
“Well, I like to keep my library up to date on my faves. Please, place our Disney classics on the counter.”
“Well, I would love to pay for them. It’s the least that I can do. I have not seen you in years. Please, let me.”
“But I’m buying it as a gift. I would think it would be proper for me to use my money…my own money.”
They were arguing again.
Soji knew that arguments were one of the signs of a healthy relationship but he was very sure there was everything cancerous about their weekly arguments.
Today, the mole hill of their altercation was that she felt he was not attentive enough to her needs. She expected him to pre-empt her needs but he was explaining that she needed to open up and tell him what she needed per time.
“Teju, you know I cannot read minds. You have to tell me what you want or need and I would try my best to be there. I cannot assume or pre-empt your thoughts.”
“So, a year and three months and you don’t even know what works for me. Soji, what are we even doing? Are we even getting this right?”
Soji inhaled and exhaled. He would only admit to himself; she was stretching out his patience and that dude was threadbare thin as is. Nonetheless, he moved closer to her and held her face in his hands.
“One thing you should never doubt is how I feel about you. I deeply care about you and honestly, I fall deeper in love with you each day. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed, “but I can’t be asking you for money nau. It makes me feel less than a woman. It makes me feel like those babes who are always dependent on their men for money.”
“But you aren’t. You are strong, fiercely independent and ambitious. And I know you would never ask if you were not nearly tipped over, but you should never have a problem asking me. Stop dropping hints; this is not Gulder Ultimate Search, ehn.”
“It really is not easy but I would try.”
“Now, that’s my girl.” He plastered a soft kiss on her nose.
“So, what are you doing now?” He asked her as he punched in his PIN into the POS machine.
“Well, I manage an event planning firm with a friend. You remember Helen now?”
“Oh, really?! That’s really nice. I started a tech start-up recently. Nothing grand, we just floated the business. Here…” he opened his wallet and brought out a complimentary card, “…here is my card. Please, I dey find clients and business referrals, abeg.”
She laughed and collected the card from him. It was then she spotted the gold band on his left finger.
She smiled and nudged him to collect his ATM card and receipt from the cashier. The cashier handed them brown paperbacks containing their books and they walked away from the check-out counter.
She stood before him and one minute felt like a spread of five hours. She waited for him, for his response, for his decision.
She breathed heavily and opened her mouth to talk but air just escaped through her teeth.
She made another attempt and even garnered the courage to take a few steps to where he sat.
“Soji, you aren’t saying anything. Please, say something. I am sorry.”
“Teju, I have told you over and over again that I am not angry with you. I just cannot do this anymore…this back and forth. You cannot keep breaking up with me and I keep begging you to come back. I don’t know if you have the heart and mind to continue with that tirade but Teju, I cannot.
I know what I want and I go for it but you obviously are too immature to be in this dating business and honestly, I am tired. I can’t continue with this.”
“But Soji, I said I was sorry.”
“And you think ‘cos you said ‘sorry’, it rewinds everything that happened these past weeks and everything returns to normal. Teju, it doesn’t work that way.”
“So, are you breaking up with me?”
“Funny how you are flipping this script to be my fault. Teju, you’ve been breaking up with me since last year. Teju, you have called off this relationship six times within eight months. So no, I’m not breaking up with you. All this is on you.”
“Soji please, I-I am sorry. I promise I won’t break up again. I love you.”
“Tejumade, that ship has sailed, I’m sorry. Not sure I would ever stop loving you but I don’t think we are right for each other. Goodbye, Teju.”
“So, this is the end?”
Teju remembered that day as she had walked out of his apartment. It had taken every fibre of strength in her not to collapse in tears as she journeyed back to her house. However, the dam was let open and the flood of tears was unleashed as she opened the door to her apartment. Her friend, Helen had heard her collapse to the floor and had ran from the kitchen to where she had slumped on the floor shaking uncontrollably in fits of sobs.
She smiled sadly to herself as she stepped to a side to let him open the door for her.
“It was really good to see you again, Soji.”
“I know right! And you haven’t even changed at all. You still have that twinkle in your eyes.”
She laughed out loud at the irony of it all. No one had ever mentioned that about her eyes, He was the only one who saw stars twinkling in them.
“Thank you. How old is your child?”
He chuckled. “What gave me away?”
“Well, the marriage band and the pop-up book. My daughter has tons of those.”
“Daughter?! You do not say. My boy is two years. His name is Sesan.” He brought out his wallet and showed her the picture of the cutest boy she had ever seen.
“He is really cute, very cute like his father.”
“Now, I am blushing. Thanks ma’am.”
“You are invited for Nini’s birthday. She turns four this Sunday.”
“So, she is the little princess who owns the Disney collections. Wow, what a very lucky girl.”
“…and a handful!”
“I can imagine.” He had walked her to her car and opened the door for her.
“It was really nice to see you again after all these years…how many years again?”
“Five, I think” she stepped into her car and placed her paper bag on the passenger seat. She leaned in and opened her glove compartment. “Here is Nini’s invitation card.”
“Touché, this is very nice. Niniola Adaraloye. So, I take it that you are Mrs Tejumade Adaraloye.”
She chuckled loudly, “Tejumade Martins-Adaraloye.”
“Nice one…” he mimicked a clap “…with a very nice ring to it.”
“Thank you. See you, Mrs Balogun and Sesan at Nini’s party on Sunday.”
“Sure!” He closed her door and waited for her to wind down her glass. “It was really nice to see you again, Omolewa.”
“You too, Soji. Goodbye.” She wound up her glass and backed up the parking lot.
Helen was with her and holding her hands, steadying it from shaking profusely.
“What are you going to do now?”
“I don’t know, Helen.” She did not even attempt to wipe off the phlegm that ran down her nose to her lips.
“But Teju, you can’t keep this away from him.”
“He would think this is a ruse to get back into his life. He told me goodbye…I cannot go back.”
Helen looked at her best friend and down to the several home pregnancy test kits scattered on their toilet floor. “So, you are going to keep his child away from him?”
“He told me goodbye, Helen. I guess he told his child goodbye too.”
As Tejumade weaved her way through the busy Victoria Island traffic she prayed and begged God that Soji would never connect the dots.
Soji had just pressed down the handbrake of his car and was about to pull out his key from the ignition when the question hit him like a wave of lightning.
He remembered vividly that he and Teju had broken up five years ago, July precisely. Now, her daughter was turning four in March; nine months after they had broken up. He made futile attempts to calculate and re-calculate but everything he did still gave the same result.
He slumped back in his car seat and placed his hands on his head.
“Shit!” He cussed. He had just paid for his daughter’s gift for the first time in his life.