I sat at the waiting reception after checking in. My entire family had come to say goodbye to their little girl, except for my twin who had relocated with his wife to the UK. I on the other hand chose to move to an African country, Ghana. I have often wondered at my fascination with that place, now I had taken the step to start a new life there.
I had almost an hour before my flight; I found a very comfortable spot at the waiting area and took in
my environment, the faces of people waiting for various flights. I was to resume at my new job the following week with a school for early infant education as the School Counselor. I had taken the opportunity without even thinking because it was a chance to start over in a new environment, where nobody, absolutely no one would know me.
I sighed on my seat and looked outside the window, I loved the feeling of being unknown, just another face in the crowd, believe me, I couldn’t explain it but It was a wonderful feeling, almost breathtaking.
Then I spotted him, broad shoulders, big nose, well fitted polo top and jeans on an almost perfect body, tall and dark, I’d know this person even from his side view.
I panicked. With the speed of a desperate woman, I picked up the closest magazine near me and put it over my face. The guy beside me looked at me funny, but I didn’t care. I lowered it a little until my eyes were a little above the magazine like a Hippopotamus under water and starred at him. He was finishing his purchase at the food court and walking back to his seat. I was so relieved when he sat backing me, but I kept the magazine up just in case his eyes wandered.
Then my flight was announced. I gathered up my things quickly and dashed for the boarding area. I was the first (wow!). I was just glad I had escaped that close encounter.
As I settled in my window seat and looked out of the window, my thoughts returned to the new life of adventure I was going to have in Ghana; new job, new friends, new environment… and maybe, the elusive love might just catch up with me.
I froze. I didn’t have to turn; I knew that voice and the one that always called me like that. I didn’t move.
“Kemi-doll” he said again.
This time I turned and there he was, smiling broadly at me, I returned a weak smile and turned back to the window, but not before I noticed another person take the seat next to mine. That was a huge relief. Deji’s seat was the one on the aisle, he tried to reach across to me but I shrunk deeper into the side of the airplane like my life depended on it. The smile on his face disappeared like magic, I didn’t care.
After takeoff and the seatbelt sign had been turned off, I heard Deji whisper to the guy next to me
“Please can we change seats for a while?”
“No!” I almost screamed. “Please don’t, I beg you”
The man looked as confused as Deji, shrugged and ignored both of us.
“Kemi, what did I do?” He asked with his laughing voice.
I ignored him, plugged my ears with my Ipod and turned to the window again. I didn’t switch on the music so I could still hear them whispering.
Tears involuntarily rolled down my cheeks.
“I think she’s crying” He whispered to Deji
I didn’t dare look at them.
When snacks were being passed around, I only shook my head to refuse what was offered, I didn’t unplug my ears, it was a long flight.
My thoughts wandered again, not to Ghana, but to the United States. How we’d met, the nights when we had talked on phone for hours, the laughter that made me roll out of my bed, the gentle encouraging voice on the other end, the teasing, the very awkward moments, the surprise visit… everything right down to the moment my foolish heart had gone and fallen in love.
I could hear Eji’s teasing voice (a very good friend I also met in the United States) telling me I was in love with Deji, but in my normal style, I denied it. Then, all at once, the happy memories were replaced with the pain of rejection and then I couldn’t stop the tears.
“What did I do?” I thought ‘Why did he just walk away like that?’ My heart returned to the only logical explanation I had – We were just two lonely people in another land who needed companionship and when I left, well… he just moved on. Plus, he was engaged so… it would never have worked. I had often thought about what I would do if I ever saw him again… would I be happy and jump on him… or just ignore him? Well, I had my answer now.
One question I had kept asking myself since I took the offer came back to haunt me again “What are you running from?” I thought about that question over and over again, but kept telling myself I wasn’t running from anything, but needed the adventure which was a blatant lie! I was running, running away from past hurts, disappointments and I just felt I could leave the ghosts of all these things behind where they had started. Well, one of the ghosts was two seats away from me… so much for going somewhere no one knew me.
The pilot announced our arrival. I gathered myself and braced myself for the impact, not of the landing plane, but of the encounter with Deji.
When it was time to alight, the man in the middle whispered something to Deji and they shook hands, he stood first, but Deji waited. I sat there staring at people as they filed out. I resigned to fate.
The man in the middle moved past Deji to join the long line of people filing out, so I stood up, Deji pulled me back down and took the seat beside me.
“Why are you not talking to me? Is that the way to treat your dad?”
I looked at him and remembered how he used to switch between roles; it was our little joke back then. He’d be my dad, my brother and even my boyfriend depending on the situation. It was really funny and cool, but not at the moment.
“I’m tired, it was a long flight” I said
I stood and joined the line of people filing out, he didn’t pull me back, he naturally didn’t like creating scenes… he had not changed.
I avoided him at the baggage area and took the first taxi I saw when I walked out of the airport. I gave the driver the address of the place I’d be staying and saw Deji looking at me just as the car pulled out into the highway. He actually looked very confused. I settled into the back seat and let my mind drift again… to Deji
He had introduced me to a friend and I remember how mad I had been. I did not understand why I was so mad at first, but when I sat to analyze the situation I knew for sure what my friend Eji had said was true, I was in love with him. I didn’t want his friend, I wanted him.
When I told him I was upset about the whole matchmaking thing, he said he knew. I remember his words like it was yesterday
“As your dad, you know I will always protect you, I can’t do anything that will harm you”
“And as my boyfriend?” I asked
He said the sweetest thing “I will never share you with anyone”.
I remember reading that line over and over again; over a million times I’m sure.
“We are here” the taxi drivers voice brought me back to reality.
I opened my bag and handed him some money. He thanked me in a language I believe was Twi, something I would have to learn while here. I love African languages.
The place I was to stay was a storey building of about 10 floors. The receptionist gave me my room key and told the bell boy to help me with my bags. My room was on the 10th floor, I sort of liked it cos from my window I could see everything.
I gave the bell boy a tip and when he closed the door, I sat by the window and just starred at nothing. I wondered what Deji was doing in Ghana. He left the US to take a job in Tanzania, I remember that conversation too, I had asked him to take me with him back then, and he laughed.
I had even tried matchmaking him with a friend of mine too (part of my denial mechanism I guess).
When I told him about my friend, he didn’t respond to my chat on bbm, I thought he was offended. But then, he called me later at night.
“What makes you think I am not interested in you”? he asked
And for 10 seconds, I had nothing to say. I stammered and laughed it off. He laughed too and the conversation ended, but it was in that moment that I started to consider that maybe I was really in love with him.
My thoughts returned to Ghana
“I just hope Ghana is big enough to keep us apart” I said to myself. I was in Greater Accra and if it is anything from the name, we should be far apart… hopefully.
For the next couple of days before I resumed work, I explored the city. I went to my new place of work just to know the distance from my house, looked for shortcuts, markets, saloons and other places of interest and I had a very nice time, I was so sad when Sunday night arrived.
On Monday morning, I looked at myself one last time in the mirror, I was satisfied. I had to look good on my first day. I looked out of the window and froze…. Deji. He was stepping out of the building and calling a taxi. “We stay in the same building?” I almost fainted.
My new life in Ghana just got a lot more complicated.
I watched him enter the cab and followed the cab with my eyes until it was out of sight. I stood there just starring until I remembered I had to get to work early. I tried as much as possible to get that new fact out of my head while at work, but as the hours ticked by, and closing time drew closer, my heart beat faster and faster. All I could think about was how to come up with a strategy to ensure that we never crossed path in the building. Maybe he was there for just a short business trip and would leave soon, so all I had to do was dodge him for as long as he was around.
Worst of all, I didn’t know his floor, what if we met in the elevator? That thought made me shiver.
When it was time to go home, which was about 5pm, I quickly took a cab. Before I came down from the cab, I looked everywhere; the taxi driver had to ask if I was ok. I nodded, paid him and walked as fast as I could into the building.
I took the stairs.
By the time I reached the 10th floor I was exhausted. I slowly opened my door and went to the window. I sat there and my thoughts drifted again as I waited for Deji to show up.
I remember that day like yesterday, it was 12 midnight and I could not sleep, my thoughts kept returning to this guy and I remember saying to myself “What is so wrong about telling a guy how you feel anyway? Who made the rules? What will happen to me if I tell him?” So with those questions on my mind, I picked my phone and sent a mail (I didn’t have any of his numbers again). The mail was very short and straight to the point. I told him sending the mail was the most stupid thing I’d ever done, but I wanted him to know how I felt about him… I was able to sleep after the mail was sent.
The next day he replied. I was so overjoyed. He asked if I was joking and promised to give me a call so we could talk about it… and to this day, he hasn’t called or gotten in touch with me. That was the last time I ever heard from him. The next time I heard anything about him was when a friend told me about his upcoming wedding. I was shattered.
The sight of Deji walking into the building brought me back to reality. It was 7pm.
Now I knew when he left the building and when he came back.
How about weekends? I thought to myself.
I will have to figure that out later.
My strategy worked.
I left the building in the morning after him and tried to get back before him.
On Saturday morning, I decided to add a new look to my new life, I decided after long considerations to go on low cut. My brother’s voice echoed in my head “You go wowo”(You’ll be ugly). But I shut his voice up in my head and decided to take the plunge.
I took the stairs… again. It was an unpredictable weekend.
As I stood on the covet waiting, a cab stopped right in front of me and when I bent to talk to the driver I saw him. My first instinct was to run… actually I ran.
I took the next cab that came.
“Kemi” He screamed.
“Drive” I screamed to the taxi driver and he sped off.
I was such a crappy strategist, I thought to myself. Now he knew I stayed in that building, he would also be watching out for me.
Why was I running from him anyway? I asked myself. The answer came almost immediately. It had taken me a very long time to get over the guy, and I wasn’t even over him yet, I was so afraid that I would fall for him again plus I couldn’t face rejection in the face. I had told him how I felt and he completely ignored me, made me feel like I was nothing important. Besides he was getting married soon, which was the one information that had almost killed me when I heard.
When I got to the saloon, I chickened out of cutting my hair, (I guess my brother’s voice won). Plus I secretly hoped Deji would maybe see me and change his mind (very silly I know) I did braids instead.
I didn’t see Deji again for two weeks; I was relieved and a little disappointed. I don’t know why actually (of course I did).
I thought he was done with whatever he was in Ghana for and gone back to Tanzania, so I let my guards down.
He was also a strategist. He waited for me after work and entered the same elevator with me. When I saw him, I wanted to bolt out but the door closed.
He stood beside me, I ignored him.
He waited for me to punch in my floor but I didn’t. When we reached the 10th floor and everyone was out of the elevator, he turned and said “We are going to ride this elevator together until you get off on your floor, or I will follow you everywhere until you talk to me”
The elevator door was about to close, I stopped it with my bag and walked out. He followed.
“What do you want?” I asked
“I just want to know why my daughter is so upset with me she wouldn’t talk to me or even look at me”
“I am not your daughter” I said stomping my feet like a foolish little girl.
Then his face looked very serious
“Whatever I did, or have done, I am sorry Kemi. Please just talk to me. I haven’t been able to get over your reaction to me in the airplane, and I have searched for you only to find that we live in the same building”
I felt tears in my eyes and I turned away immediately and walked to my door. He followed.
When we entered my room, it just poured out
“What did I do to you Deji? You just stopped talking to me, you left me guessing and trying to figure out how I had offended you. You disappeared from bbm without letting me know, changed your numbers and now you are getting married and I know nothing of anything” I said crying.
“You broke my heart into tiny pieces and it has taken me two years to get myself together and now, just when I think I’ve made headway, you appear and expect me to run to you with open arms?” I sat down and covered my tear stained face with my hands.
“I’m so sorry” He said slowly. “It wasn’t intentional.”
“The truth is I knew you were falling in love with me and I just thought it would be easier not to lead you on since I knew the feeling wasn’t mutual. I felt letting you go was the best option, so I just…”
“You were wrong. If we had talked about it, and you had told me it wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t have been as painful, but you left me in the dark, just wondering what I had done. I don’t know if you knew, but our friendship was very important to me, and even though we could not be romantically involved, I would have been cool just knowing we were still friends”
“I’m sorry. I thought I was doing the best thing.”
I stopped crying. He came to seat beside me and pulled me into his arms. I started crying again.
So, that was how the confrontation I had imagined in my head several times played out. We talked some more, not about anything serious. He was transferred to Ghana, would be getting married in a few weeks and would be moving his family to Ghana.
“Would you come for my wedding?”
I looked at him without answering.
“I’m sorry, I understand”.
I said nothing.
After that encounter, we became friends again. He visited a lot and we talked a lot. But I warned my heart and threatened it with open heart surgery if it tried anything stupid.
It dared me.
The night before he traveled for his wedding, he visited.
“I’m travelling tomorrow”
“Really” I said avoiding his eyes.
“Yes, really. I was hoping you would change your mind”
“I haven’t” I said.
“Congratulations, I am very happy for you”
“Thank you dear daughter”
“I can’t wait for you to meet your new mother” he said with his laughing voice.
“Me neither” I said rolling my eyes
When he left my room that night, I cried. I had gotten the closure I longed for, and I was hoping the door would stay closed forever.
The next day, I moved.
I had been making plans to move the moment he told me he was coming back with his family. I knew I couldn’t bear to meet my ‘new mother’ and still be all chummy; that was a sure recipe for depression.
Two months later, I sat counseling a little girl who was convinced her mother hated her, my phone beeped. I looked at the caller ID and it read ‘Deji’.
I ignored the call.
Later that night I called back.
“Hi” my heart skipped a beat when I heard his voice; my silly heart was not scared of the open heart surgery.
“How are you” I asked trying to sound cheerful.
“You moved, why?”
“I had to, I can’t…” my voice trailed off.
“Still?” he asked
“Yes, still” I replied.
“I understand” he sounded sad. “We can still talk right?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea…. Maybe once in a while” I added.
“Have a lovely night rest and congratulations once again”
“Thank you” he said.
So, I did see him once in a while, but from afar. I needed to move on, that door was never going to be open again.
My lesson from all this? No matter how much I love a guy, I would never EVER let him know first until I know for sure how he feels about me. If I die hiding it, so be it.
So help me God. Amen.