Ajoke walked to the bus-stop and was about to flag down a yellow danfo. She was still in shock as she thought about the customer service manager standing before her in the banking hall. Because of his sudden lack of composure, he had gone back to his office mumbling to his report as he walked away. He told her he would call her later as he had to attend to something urgent. Ajoke had refused to look up from the form she was filling till she was done. When she handed over the form to the customer service personnel, the lady had looked at her strangely. “Are you okay, madam?” She had asked.
“I am fine.” Ajoke had said as she faked a smile with trembling lips. The lady shrugged as she received the filled form from Ajoke and put it into a lever arch file on her desk which had “processing” boldly written on it.
The conductor stood and hung gingerly on the door of the bus shouting her destination. Ajoke waved her right hand to signal the bus to a halt to convey her back to the village when a grey Honda Accord parked in front of her. She took a few steps backward so she could get on the danfo which was about to park when she heard her name. She looked in the direction of the Honda Accord and saw the customer service manager stepping out of the car. She stood still as she looked at him.
“Ajoke, please come into the car.”
“What do you want from me?” Ajoke asked.
“Can we talk about this somewhere else please?” He pleaded. “Come into the car.”
The conductor who had tapped the top of the bus, signaling the driver to step on the brakes looked at her. “Are you a go?”
Ajoke shook her head and the conductor hissed.
“Kò lö jàre. Ó ti bá ökùnrin lö. Non-sense!”
“She isn’t going. She has decided to go with a man.”
Ajoke walked towards the Honda Accord like someone in a trance. The customer service manager opened the passenger door for her and closed it carefully after Ajoke eased in. He then jogged over to the driver’s side. He put the car in drive and eased into the main road. None of them spoke to each other during the drive – each one lost in thought. Ajoke hid her hands in her laps and refused to look up throughout the journey. In five minutes, they were parked in front of an apartment within town. The area was quiet and the array of townhouses and modest cars showed that the houses were residences to average middle-class individuals. The manager got out of the car, turned round to open Ajoke’s door as he held her hand and led her towards his apartment. He brought out a bunch of keys from his pocket and opened the door leading Ajoke in.
“Please sit down.” He said.
“Are you not supposed to be at work?” Ajoke asked; suddenly finding her voice.
“I have a one-hour lunch break. Since I stay close, I usually come home for lunch.”
Ajoke nodded but remained standing refusing to make eye contact.
“Ajoke, I need you to sit down. I can’t talk to you this way. I wanted us to talk in a relaxed environment; that’s why I brought you here.”
Ajoke sighed as she sat on the edge of the couch closest to the door of the living room. She looked round at her environment for the first time since coming in and noted that the furnishings were simple but screamed class. There was a brown seven-seater leather couch to her right. Fluffy pillows lined the couch like children on an assembly ground. A dark brown glass centre table sat in the middle of the living room. A small round dining table stood to her left surrounded by four chairs. Opposite her was a large television ten times bigger than what she had in her living room. From her sitting position, she could see two doors, one to the left and another to the right. She assumed they were probably the doors to the bedrooms. She sighed again as the manager broke into her thoughts.
“Ajoke, I know I have hurt you but I want you to hear me out. I’m sorry I stopped responding to your letters. So many things were happening at the same time and I felt like you were putting me under pressure.”
Ajoke looked at him intently without uttering a word.
“How have you been doing?”
“Did you think I was suddenly going to forget about our love?”
Kokumo breathed deeply. “No. But you belonged to another man and the hurt I went through was unbearable. My heart was sore and broken.”
“And you thought I would cope better by refusing to have anything to do with me, right? Or you thought your heart was the only one being trampled upon?”
“No Ajoke, but there wasn’t much I could do.”
“You could have at least responded to my letters.” Ajoke spat.
“I am sorry, Ajoke. I don’t know how many times I would have to say it. Sincerely, I am. I couldn’t even read the letters. I did not have the courage to. Seeing your handwriting on those envelopes reopened my wounds every time I received a letter from you. I wanted to move on but my heart refused to. When you stopped writing, I thought it was all over. I picked out all the letters when I was about graduating and read all of them one by one. I’m sorry I never wrote back. I felt you still wanted me to remain a part of your life. You wrote about how unhappy you were and wrote when you had your son and your daughter. They were six letters in all and I cried the day I read them all. I realized I was still heartbroken even after three years.”
“I did not stop writing Kokumo. I knew you would be graduating and there was no way my letters would get delivered to you anymore. Since you never bothered to reply any of the letters and I did not have any forwarding address for you, there was no point writing a letter that would go undelivered. There was no one to ask and no one to talk to.”
Kokumo moved close to Ajoke and sat down beside her. He held her hands. “Please forgive me.”
Ajoke looked away as she spoke. “Adejoro travelled abroad on a scholarship seven years ago. His course was supposed to be for twenty-four months. He never came back. He left me and the kids to start another life in the UK.”
Kokumo shook his head as he realized Ajoke must have had it rough; having to cater for herself and two young kids alone. “I’m so sorry, Ajoke. I did not know that. I would have reached out to you.” He said as he covered her hands in his. “How have you been coping?”
Ajoke shrugged without looking at him. “I started weaving hair for little girls in the vicinity, and then their mothers patronized me after a while before I was able to set up a salon. I have used that to keep body and soul together. My kids and I are not hungry.”
Kokumo smiled despite the situation. The Ajoke he fell in love with years ago was still the same Ajoke sitting before him. The years of their separation had not changed her positive attitude one bit.
“Broda Adisa advised that I open an account to save for the rainy day. There’s no bank in the village yet so I had to come to town.”
“How are your parents and your brothers?”
“My parents are fine. All my brothers are now happily married.”
Kokumo thought about Ajoke’s statement and her emphasis on the word “happily married”. It was a pity that she was the married and abandoned one for no fault of hers. He wished he could turn back the hands of time. He wished life hadn’t been so cruel to their love. He sighed as he looked at his wrist watch. His lunch break was almost over and he had to get back to work. He wished he did not have to. He wanted to know everything that had taken place in Ajoke’s life since the last time they saw; when he had walked her home from the stream and parted ways with her. Even though it was ten years ago, it felt like yesterday to him. He remembered the look of despair on her face when he left her. He remembered her plea to him that they run away from the village to create the future they desired.
“I need to get back to work.” He said standing up.
Ajoke stood up as well. “No problem. I should also take my leave now. I need to get back to my shop and my kids.”
Kokumo moved closer to Ajoke as he held her hand again. “I wish I did not have to go back to work but.….” He stopped and sighed. “When can I see you again?”
Ajoke shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Okay, when do you intend to go back to school?”
Ajoke gave him a surprised look.
“You always wanted to go to the university. It is not too late, Ajoke.”
Ajoke removed her hands from Kokumo’s. “You know what. I think you should get back to work.” She said as she started walking towards the door.
Kokumo got to her in two steps and held her hand. “Did I say something wrong?” He asked looking confused. “I thought that was your dream.”
Ajoke looked away. “Let me go Kokumo.”
Kokumo refused to let her go. “Okay, I’m sorry. Please I apologize if I said something wrong. I don’t want you to leave in anger and I really want to see you again. I close from work at 6pm and I am usually home by 7.”
Ajoke looked at him without uttering a word.
“Please, can I see you later today?”
Even though Ajoke would rather not, a part of her heart longed to come back. She had endured ten years of pain and heartache without her first love. After his refusal to respond to all her letters, she had mourned her loss and never thought she would see him again. She was angry that all her letters to him were unanswered. She was also hurt and pained like he was and she refused to understand why he would turn his back on her and on their young love. He hadn’t changed much – he had only grown older and bulkier. Hearing his voice in the banking hall had struck a chord in her heart. She would recognize the voice of her beloved in the midst of a crowd. Even though her encounter with him had reopened the pain and hurt she had felt when she lost him, it also built up a longing in her heart to be with him again. She wanted to know more. She needed to know more. Ten years! She breathed deeply. “I’ll be here at 7.30.”
“Thank you.” Kokumo smiled. He opened the door and they both walked out of the house.
Kokumo drove Ajoke back to the bus-stop and flagged down a taxi. Ajoke objected as she told him she would rather go back in a bus just like she had come to town but Kokumo refused to listen to her. He paid for the taxi and watched the car drive off to her destination before driving back to his office.
He wasn’t sure how he got to his office. Everything he did after his encounter with Ajoke; including the drive back was on autopilot. The hunger he would have experienced on usual days was non-existent. The sight of Ajoke had filled him up. He was unable to concentrate on his job the rest of the day. He looked at the table clock on his desk almost every ten minutes. He wished close of business would come early.
The story continues….
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