7:45pm: It was the day Effio-anwan passed. The day went, for Laura, like its first anniversary did: Dull. Quiet. Gloomy. Only, the pain was a little less intense. But her feeling of loss circled her into a state of inaccessibility.
Laura rolled off her couch and disturbed the lethargy that clawed her soul. She marched to the window and looked outside, absentmindedly. Two giggling girls emerging from the house across the street, pulled her attention. Both had airs of a typical powerful female millennial. Each of them, hip and elegant. Uptown and exclusive.
Laura watched them get into a rich red car, immersed in conversation. Whatever they were talking about, had elements of good humor that got both in stitches and hysteria. She watched until they drove away, still brilliantly engaged in talks.
The last bit of them disappeared at a bend before Laura gave attention to the fresh wave of grief which swept at her freely.
That used to be Effio-anwan and I, she thought and sank onto a couch. Feelings of dread washed over her as the loud silence of the house echoed endlessly with an ominous tone. It was going to be a long night of wishes, regrets and nightmares.
Maybe, I should go out. But where? Constance was preoccupied with Paul. Joy, with Bartholomew. The others were friends for a great party crowd. Moreover, was she really in need of company? She sieved through her form. A silent presence was more like what she wanted; knowing there was someone in the next room who cared.
The parent’s house might offer some comfort. She considered, but discarded the thought immediately, because Shola was right at the other end of the street and she didn’t want to trigger a pain that had stayed stuck in her skin, since her early twenties.
Laura snuggled into the couch and picked up her phone. Several swipes through her photo gallery, she selected ten photos with her late friend and uploaded on Instagram.
She captioned it with her heart in her hands and with words that flowed from a place of deep emotions, which elicited consolation and tributes from many quarters. Then, her phone rang.
It was Nathan. Effio-Anwan’s Nathan. Why is Nathan calling me?, she paused. It was even surprising she still had his number. And he still had hers? Why? The last time she saw him, he was hopping into the back of a taxi, right after they’d left Effio-Anwan’s graveside. He had left without saying a word to anyone. And had not as much as checked in with her on social media, these past two years?
Laura raised the phone to her ears and made an attempt at saying, “hello”. What came out was a cracked whisper. His voice on the other end was deep and clear, but there were notes of unease in it too.
After pleasantries, a silence fell before Nathan started talking about Effio-Anwan. His memory of her was sweet and consistent with Laura’s knowledge of her. His voice was heavy with emotions as he talked of how happy she made him and how the thought of not being able to do enough to ease her pain, during her last days, ate at him.
Laura listened in silence, swallowing hard as he played visuals of the sun that was Effio-Anwan.
He moved from tale to tale, evoking laughter with some. And tears with some. He ran out of airtime twice and called back both times. At some point both no longer felt awkward sharing thoughts at such a level with the other.
Their mutual pain was a common ground that each stepped on and unraveled to the other because they already understood the pain. Then out of the blue, Nathan suggested they went to Effio-Anwan’s grave for a drink with, and a toast to, her.
His idea was so Effio-Anwan, but Laura said no, resolutely, with all the civility her hormones could muster up at the time, because it also reeked of predation.
She expected Nathan to insist. He didn’t. He just backed off and veered into a topic that led to where both were at the present. What they’d both done with their lives since after their loss. He talked about how he’d immersed himself into work to numb the pain, how he’d learnt to tell a good scotch as a result and, in response to Laura’s unspoken curiosity, he brushed over how poor a lover he’d also become and how his mother was on his neck to find another “good” girl. And an alarm went off Laura’s head.
Is that what he is doing? She almost blurted the question but was held back by an unwillingness to end a free therapeutic conversation.
Nathan continued to chatter on, asking questions intermittently, only to receive non-answers, until he slowed down and nudged for more contributions from her with long silences.
It was during one of those silences that Laura took him up on his earlier proposition. “Just not at a cemetery,” she said. At a hotel’ bar, maybe? And Nathan thought it was better than being alone.
He rushed through closing every open file on his table and left the building in minutes. Saul’s was far out, three neighborhoods away, and he didn’t want to keep her waiting. Her late friend always talked about how she was the triple-deluxe version of her. But how so? Was her make-up as exquisite as her porcelain exterior? She may have been the most beautiful one, but Effio-Anwan was the one with fizz. Effio-Anwan walked around with fun flying out of her. Not Laura….Laura was intentional and closed-off. She was detailed and pristine. He caught himself setting both women side by side, and quickly steered his mind to reverent territories.
But it was too late. Physical longing had already been aroused in him. By who? He questioned. Was it by a lover he could no longer reach or by….
No! He cursed under his breathe. He’d rather take up offers he’d turned down in the past, than…..than what? He shook his head and gave a low laugh. He wasn’t willing to deal with that thought at that moment.
Laura took her time to not wear anything that may remotely suggest effort. Even the long floral multi-tiered dress she ended up with, for lack of a better option, felt like too much effort. So she made it up with a bare face and aged feed-in braids that should belong under a weave.
She delayed a little and drove a lot slower than normal, so to not show too much willingness. But willingness for what? They were just meeting to toast to a late beloved friend.
She arrived just as Nathan was ordering his first drink. And saw him before he saw her. He had grown more facial hair and no longer had that annoying boyish appeal. Now, there was a maturity to him that was charming and terribly intimidating.
As she drew near him, she watched him undo the cuffs of his shirt and realised he had come straight from the office. So, there really may not be a waiting wife or girlfriend? she thought and checked the time. When she looked up, his eyes were on her. She couldn’t tell what was in them, but they made her uncomfortable.
Each step toward him felt heavy. And Laura wished he’d just take his eyes off her for one second so she could breath. He didn’t. Instead he broke into a smile. And she swore at him in her head.
At the table, he got her settled in. Then started another round of stories about Effio-Anwan.
They laughed and teared up from memories of her. Laura allowed herself to be a good company and drove the conversation in many directions. When she asked him if his grief was possibly fueled by more regret than love, he gave a low laugh and answered loosely.
“I loved her and asked her to marry me twice, but both times she said she didn’t feel ready to be a wife. So I waited, until the opportunity was taken off the table for both of us.”
A silence fell. Laura didn’t know what to say next. It had been an unnecessary question, to start with, because Effio-Anwan did always tell her how much of a great lover he was.
A light-bulb came to her rescue, and she turned to asking him about his top five brands of scotch. Then their conversation meandered into society, leadership, money and back to many toasts to Effio-Anwan.
At 2:45am, Laura called it a night and saw Nathan’ hesitance to end the meeting. He got up, nevertheless, but insisted on following her home for safety reasons.
They went in their respective cars and talked all the way to Laura’s house. She got indoors and placed him on speaker, as he continued to talk about how corruption affects his work as a public finance administrator.
Laura was listening to him attentively, when her eyes caught red flashing light outside her window, and she remembered she hadn’t seen him drive off, after parking to see her go into the house.
She drew near the window and peeped through to find him still parked where she had last seen him.
“Why are you still parked outside my house?” She laughed through the words.
“I am waiting to be invited in.” He asserted.
She made to probe further but his voice got through to her with clarity and reason,
“I don’t want to go home to an empty house, especially on a date that has stayed dark for three years. I feel like we need each other today…Tomorrow?… I feel pulled to stay.”
“What do you think is pulling you?” Laura reached for the crux.
“Need…” he blurted, “…comfort. Rapport…”
“Come on, nothing bad will happen” He pleaded.
“Actually, a lot of bad things can happen.” She countered and tried to navigate all the answers in her head.
Yes, talking to him was fun. And having him around was convenient. Yes, she felt pulled and wanted to be pulled. But did it have to be Nathan? Effio-Anwan’s Nathan?
She shook her head and, instead, proposed a late lunch meeting, the following day. Nathan took it and drove home with the excitement of hope. And as both continued to talk into the morning, each looked forward to the day with the other.