Oleng looked at the bank manager who to her was smiling foolish, not smugly like he thought he was and thanked him. She quietly got up from her seat and walked away with her head held high. That was the last time she would visit the office. She had come there for materials for her project but the bank manager insisted on going out with her first which would of course end in a hotel room but she refused. To hell with him, she said inwardly.
When she got to the banking hall, she thanked the customer care officer who had been of immense help to her. She ignored the others who probably thought she intended going out with their boss. Well, it was their own headache. Oleng knew she was looking good in her cream corporate shirt and black skirt with high heels so she was not surprised when both, male and female customers stared at her instead of filling their slips. She cat-walked her way out of the bank. She was almost at the gate when she heard her name. She wondered if the bank manger had changed his mind.
“God! Is this really you?” she heard behind her.
When she turned around, she screamed. Standing before her looking handsome even in his youth corps member uniform was Dave. Not minding that customers pouring out of the bank and security men were staring at them, she hugged him.
“My God! Is this really you?” he said again and she laughed.
“I can’t believe my eyes also.” she said happily.
“What are you doing here? Where have you been? Where did you disappear to?” he enquired all at once.
She laughed. “One at a time, Dave.”
“You can’t blame me. I haven’t seen you in six years.”
“Can we go somewhere to talk?”
She shrugged. “No problem. Are you through here?”
“Forget here. It’s no longer important. You are much more important.”
She laughed. “Lead the way.”
They went to a restaurant close by. They sat down and Dave ordered soft drinks for them.
“So tell me. What happened?”
“It’s a long story.”
“It always is. I’m all ears.”
“Well, to cut it short, my mum woke up one morning and decided I needed to relocate here. She seized my phone and laptop so I couldn’t tell any one I was leaving. When I got here, I sat for my exams and made all of them. I got admission into the university here to study banking and finance. I’m in my final year. I went to that bank to search for project materials.”
“Didn’t you think of us? Didn’t you even think to come and look for us?”
“I tried. Believe me I did. I tried, but my mum would hear nothing of it. I had already made up my mind that I would go back to look for all of you after my graduation.”
“I still can’t believe I’m seated before you. When my friend in the bank said, ‘Damn, look at that gorgeous babe’, I looked up and was shocked to see you looking drop dead gorgeous, leaving the bank. I had to follow you to make sure. I knew you were going to be beautiful but I never envisaged that you would be this gorgeous.” he complimented her grinning while she smiled shyly.
“You’re not looking bad yourself.”
“Really? “He laughed. “O Oleng! I’m so glad to see you. I, Zinny, Marvy even Eddy called your number to no avail. We tried finding you on Facebook but you were not there. Even messages to your yahoo mail kept coming back undelivered. We even went to your house but we were told you no longer resided there. We missed you. We all missed you. I missed you. I thought your mum sent you to school in Saudi Arabia. I thought one of her customers probably told her to bring you there. I never knew you were just a few hours away; Calabar for that matter where I was posted to. How come I didn’t set my eyes on you all these months I’ve been here?”
She shrugged, all smiles. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s fate. Maybe this is the best time to meet.”
“When I have just two months to leave? I’ll be leaving here by July.”
“Then we have to make the most of it.” she grinned but became serious again.
“Do you still communicate with the others?”
He shook his head sorrowfully. “Not really. Eddy schooled in Lagos. He studied Geology. I think he just started working in an oil company in Delta state. Zinny is in her final year in a private university studying Nursing. Marvy is also there studying Pharmacy. She’s also in her final year.”
“What about you?”
“I studied petroleum engineering in Uniport. And as you already know, I was posted here last year June. I’m serving in an oil company here through my uncle’s connections.”
“Big boy.” she teased and he laughed.
“Oleng,” he solemnly called and she knew what was coming.
“Yes,” she answered in a small voice. Her drink suddenly became very interesting to look at.
“What happened between you and Eric?”
She shook her head as tears gathered in her eyes. She couldn’t believe the thought of Eric still made her cry. She took deep breadths to gain control of herself. She felt it was due to seeing Dave again. Sweet memories were beginning to crawl back into her brain.
“Eric is a forgotten issue.” she finally told him, albeit firmly.
“That can’t be. You guys were just too close. I was shocked when I heard you’d broken up. We all asked what could have destroyed the friendship we all called made in heaven.”
“Dave, Eric hurt me. He broke my heart. He abandoned me when I needed him most. He broke all the promises we made to each other.” She raised her head to look at him and he saw the unshed tears there. He was sorry to see them.
He shook his head. “I’m sorry. Eric seemed too nice to actually abandon you.”
“Are you calling me a liar? Did he tell you something else? What did he tell you?” she angrily asked.
“He didn’t tell me anything. Eddy told me he came to Nigeria for his parents’ anniversary. I wasn’t around then. I wished I had seen him then, maybe I would have heard his own side of the story.”
“I don’t care about his own side of the story.” she vehemently said shocking him.
“Oleng, I sincerely think that if given the opportunity, you guys can resolve your differences. I really would like to see both of you back together again.”
“That’s a tall order so don’t count on it.” she solemnly told him, keeping him quiet for a while.
He smiled. “Does it mean I can’t call you Erica again?” he teased hoping to soften her heart but he was dead wrong.
“Yes! Please don’t ever call me that awful name again. My name is Oleng. If you ever call me that name again, I’ll never speak to you again.” she declared robbing him of words again.
He stared at her. He wondered for the umpteenth time what had destroyed the two love birds. It was a shame because he had already day dreamt of how their wedding would be.
He stared at the girl he once and truth be told still had a crush on. She was more beautiful than ever. Her skin shone with a glossy silkiness. Seeing her again stirred the old feelings he had for her.
Over the years, she had always been on his mind even though he had had girlfriends. He wondered what she would say if he told her of his feelings. Probably pick her hand bag and run away, never to speak to him again. It was just too soon to do that.
“Why’re you looking at me like that?” she asked uneasily.
“I was just reminiscing good times. Remember ‘Eric’s not just my best friend, he’s my life’?” Dave threw at her but regretted doing so when her eyes moistened.
“I’m sorry.” he quickly said.
She shook her head. “It’s okay. Yes, I admit it; he was my life but not anymore.”
“So, someone else is your life right now?” he innocently asked but was amazed when she smiled.
“Is that a subtle way of asking me if I have a boyfriend?”
He had to smile at that.
“No, I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Well, I haven’t seen anyone who has appealed to me yet.”
“In the whole of Calabar?”
“Yes, in the whole of Calabar. What about you? I know girls would have fought themselves naked because of you.”
He laughed heartily. “Me? The introvert?”
“Girls are attracted to gentlemen.”
He shook his head. “Not this one.”
“Really?” she asked in disbelief.
“Alright. I’ve been in one or two relationships but they didn’t work out. I’m free now.”
She laughed. “Still searching for that missing rib, huh?”
He laughed also. “Something like that…what about you? Don’t tell me you’re also searching for your Mr. Right.”
She shrugged nonchalantly and smiled.
“Or is it that you’re still in love with Eric?” he chipped making her frown.
“You know, if you continue bringing up that guy, this might very well be the last time you set eyes on me.” she firmly told him.
He raised his hands up in mock surrender.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that it’s quite hard to come to terms with the fact that you guys are no longer together.”
“Well, you just have to accept it…I really have to get going. I have to check out some other banks to find out if I can get any help.’
“You didn’t get any from that bank?”
“Let’s just say the manager was more interested in giving me help in a hotel room.”
Dave chuckled. “Well, can’t say I blame him. You’re a very beautiful girl.’
“Thanks but if my so-called beauty can’t get me help except via a hotel room, then I prefer being ugly.”
He chuckled again. “Come off it. Girls are dying to be in your shoes…anyway, I have an uncle who is a bank manger here. Why don’t we go and find out if he can help you?”
“Really?” Oleng was all smiles.
“Really.” he replied smiling.
He paid for their drinks and they left the restaurant. Dave took her to his uncle who was of immense help to her. She smiled shyly when his uncle seemed to think she and Dave were going out and told Dave that he hoped she was the one. She had been surprised when instead of Dave to answer in the negative, he smiled and said time would tell.
She had never envisaged going out with Dave. He was a nice guy and a handsome one at that but he was more like a brother to her. She waved the thought aside. He’d probably been joking.
Dave and Oleng continued seeing each other at weekends. Oleng never knew Dave was so much fun to be with. Growing up had changed him. They went to fun places and tourist centers. They got to know each other better. They missed some weekends when he would be called out to the field; off shore and would be unable to make it. They missed weekends also when she was preparing for her final exams.
Dave was waiting for her when she finished her last paper and took her out. They stayed out very late that day and for the second time in her life, she was not only tipsy but drunk also. She woke up with a hangover the following day but smiled through it when she remembered all the fun she had had the previous day.
It was a sad day when Dave actually completed his youth service and had to leave Calabar. It was also a joyful day when he told her that the company had retained him due to his uncle’s strong connections. She was very happy for him and they went out to celebrate. She finally took him home to meet her aunt who was ecstatic.
“You’re welcome, my dear.” she said beaming from ear to ear. “You said you’re from Bayelsa, right?”
“Yes ma.” Dave politely answered.
“I’ve never been there before. I heard it’s a nice place. I can just imagine. Bayelsa and Cross River. It would be a Niger Delta wedding.”
“Aunty Vien!” Oleng nearly died of embarrassment.
“What?” she sweetly asked. “This is the first guy you’ve brought home. Shouldn’t I think he’s special and he’s the one?”
“Aunty Vien! He was my school mate back in Port Harcourt. He was a close friend.” she explained.
“And an even closer one now.” She winked at her niece who looked at her in exasperation while Dave couldn’t stop smiling. She hit him.
“What?” he feigned innocence.
“Quit that smug look on your face.”
She had to smile at the pet name he had suddenly developed for her. She wondered why guys seemed to think she needed a pet name. She shrugged and tried not to remember the one Eric used to call her.
It had been very hard for her not to remember Eric every time she was with Dave, after all they had been not only classmates but friends as well but Dave’s cheerful nature always made her push the thought of Eric aside. He was really fun to be with.
Dave became a regular visitor in her Aunt’s place which made her Aunt very happy. He had been given one month break by the oil company before coming to work for them. When Oleng finished defending and submitting her project work, she decided to pay a short visit to Port Harcourt to seek her old friends out. Dave decided to go down there also; so they traveled together. Aunt Vien was sorry to see her leave but she promised to come back soon. Aunt Vien had become a mother to her and vice versa.
When they got to their estate, she and Dave parted ways. Oleng marveled at the changes in the estate, after all it had been six whole years since she last saw the place. She almost didn’t remember her house. The taxi had passed the house before she told the driver to stop. She couldn’t help the smile that came to her face when she alighted. It felt good to be home. She tried real hard to forget the circumstances in which she had left the place. It was a new beginning for her so she really didn’t want to start thinking of the past.
She was surprised to see a new gate man when the gate was opened after she had knocked. She introduced herself and rolled her box into the compound. The gate man didn’t even offer to help her with it. She wondered what happened to Mr. Andrew. He would have rushed to help her had he been the one. She shrugged and rolled her box towards the house and noticed that her mum’s car, a Peugeot 406 was in the garage and two other cars, a Lexus SUV and a Honda civic. She hoped her mum didn’t have visitors ’cause she wasn’t in the mood for pleasantries.
On impulse, Oleng opened the door. She didn’t even think of knocking first. What she saw when she went inside rocked her to her bones. The living room door was ajar so from the lobby, she could see inside. There, she saw her mum and a man smooching on the sofa. Oleng slowly walked into the living room as if in a trance. She wanted to make sure it was her mum she was seeing.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything.” She finally said when she found her voice.
Her mum and the man sprang apart. Guilt was written all over their faces. They both spontaneously stood up and righted their clothes while she just crossed her arms at her chest, watching them in disgust.
“Oleng! I wasn’t expecting you.” Her mum finally said smiling sheepishly.
“Obviously.” she replied coldly.
“Vivien told me you would be coming either today or tomorrow. I assumed tomorrow.”
“Well, you assumed wrong.” she said in concealed anger and fixed her stare on the man.
“Yes.” Her mum quietly said and when she saw her looking at the man who was standing beside her, she turned towards him. “This is a friend of mine, Mr. Akinyele. Wale, meet my daughter.”
The man sprang forward. “How are you? I’ve heard so much about you. What’s your name?”
Oleng sized him up, hissed and left the room. She went to get her box and rolled it to her room. She was glad the door was opened. She went into the room and noticed everything was just as she had left it. It would require a lot of cleaning though. O well, she didn’t have anything doing at present so she was equal to the task. She walked around the room like a stranger.
“What was the meaning of that?” Her mum angrily asked her as she came into the room.
“Where are my phone and laptop? I need them.” she informed her, not even sparing her a glance.
“I’ll not take any form of insolence while you are here!” Mrs. Akpan fumed.
“Then I better leave. Don’t you think so?” she threw at her.
Air seemed to leave her mother at that instant like a deflated balloon. She was silent for a while.
“How was your trip?” she enquired.
“Fine, thank you.” she answered albeit coldly.
“Congratulations. I wasn’t in the country that very day else I would have sent you congratulatory messages.”
“Thank you. Where’re my phone and laptop?” she inquired again.
“Have you forgotten you spoilt your laptop when you smashed it against the wall? I threw it away. What about the one I sent to you? You have a phone now so what do you want with the old one? Moreover, your sim would be blocked by now.”
“I need the phone numbers inside it.”
“To call Eric? Don’t tell me you still haven’t forgotten him?” her mum sneered.
Oleng counted to ten because she felt like slapping her mother for the question she just asked.
“I need to get in touch with my friends who I left behind.”
“It’s been what…six years and you still want to contact them? I would have thought you would have moved on by now. Why don’t you forget about them and start a new life? Who knows, they’ve probably forgotten about you.”
She looked at her mum in bewilderment.
“Forget about the people who stood by me through thick and thin? The people who knew about my condition six years ago yet accepted me as their friend? True friends who have never stopped asking of me?…when I need your advice about friends, I’ll inform you but for now, please just get me my phone. Please.” she told her mum with barely controlled anger.
Mrs. Akpan wanted to say something but thought against it and quietly walked out of the room. She returned with the phone.
“Here you are.”
“Thanks.” she replied and continued sorting through the contents of her box so her mum had to drop the phone on the bed.
“I didn’t know you were going to come today. I intended hiring someone to clean up your room tomorrow because I’ve been so busy. Just tidy up a few things, I’ll call the person tomorrow.”
“No need for that. I’ll clean it myself. I don’t have anything doing so I might as well do it myself.” She continued checking out the contents of her box.
“I’ll be in the living room if you need me for anything.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t.”
Mrs. Akpan looked amazed then. She walked to the door and came back.
“Yes?” She still didn’t look up.
“Believe it or not, I’m happy you’ve come home. I’m happy to see you.” With that, she walked away.
Oleng sat on the floor and burst into tears. She cried profusely yet she didn’t know why. She wished things had been different between her and her mum. She wept for the lack of a mother’s love. She wept for the two Erics she had lost. She couldn’t bring herself to stop weeping.
When she was spent, she laid on the bed and slept off. It was her mum who woke her up to tell her dinner was ready. She thanked her but told her she wasn’t hungry. She got up and tried the numbers of Zinny and Marvy she found in her former phone after changing the battery but they were no longer in use. She decided to go over to their houses the following day.
She wondered if her mum’s lover boy was still around. She didn’t give a hoot. It just shocked her. No wonder she hadn’t seen her mum in more than a year. She hadn’t spent the previous Christmas holiday with them. She hadn’t known she was rollicking with her lover boy or man rather. She had wondered all these years if her mum had a male friend and now that she knew, the shock of it was overwhelming. She wondered if they would get married. She doubted it. They were probably just having an affair. She chuckled. So her mum was getting down with a man. Her always cold looking mum finally attracted a man. Very funny! What about her motto that all men were bastards? Maybe loneliness finally caught up with her.
Oleng continued her musings while she cleaned up her room. When she got hungry, she brought out the snacks Dave had bought for her on their sojourn to Port Harcourt. She ate them with relish thinking how eating them was better than eating her mum’s food.
She got up early the following morning and continued her cleaning. When she was through, she had her bath and decided it was time to go and look for her long lost friends. As she was about leaving the house, she saw her mum entering the compound in her new car or was it that of her man friend, she wondered.
“Where are you off to?” Mrs. Akpan asked as she got down from the SUV.
“To look for my friends.” she said nonchalantly.
“So you’re bent on looking for them.” she replied.
“Yes.” Oleng shortly replied and began walking away.
“Have you eaten?”
“No.” She didn’t bother turning around.
“Are you watching your weight or something?” her mum quizzed.
She turned around then. “No. I usually don’t have an appetite in the morning.”
“Are you all right? Hope you’re not sick.” her mum asked with concern.
Oleng looked at her strangely. What was the caring mother act for? “If you had really known me then, you’d know now that I’ve never been much of an eater. Even while I was pregnant.” she threw at the woman who claimed to be her mother.
She quietly walked away leaving her mother to stare after her. She didn’t care a damn about her feelings. If her mum had been half this caring six years ago, she would have loved her more than life itself but right now, she felt nothing for the woman called Mrs. Linda Akpan, only a void.