Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have had any business in the banking hall that day; i did not operate any account with them, and I had no deposits to make on anyone’s behalf, but the phone dealers across the street had shamelessly failed to get their POS machine functioning properly, so I had to make a withdrawal at the nearest ATM available (yea, ATM, not “ATM machine”)…..but a number of the notes that popped out consisted of “oil money” – literally, stained with palm oil – so i elected to step into the hall and ask for substitute notes. Afterall, the erring papers came from them.
I was directed by a security guard to go upstairs, but I had not taken more than two strides when my eyes came in contact with hers. There, at the section reserved for customer service personnel, was Sophie. There was no mirror in sight, so i couldnt tell whose face bore the greater surprise, but there she was, smiles and all, eyes enchanting as ever, just like the last time I saw her two years ago.
I first ran into Sophie sometime in June 2013. We were both pursuing our degrees at the Nigerian Law School (albeit different campuses), and during our three-month externship we had been assigned to the same court. Sometimes you can’t explain what it is about an individual that makes them so interesting, but you just find them that way. It had been mere pleasantries at first, but we sort of got closer after she was on hand to sympathize, following my humiliation by a judge on account of not dressing properly.
We got talking, exchanged calls now and then, and I offered academic assistance, going to her place from time to time, until the externship programme ended and we had to return to our respective campuses. I found myself getting drawn to Sophie, but I wasnt quite sure of how I felt. Then again, I had a lot of travelling and mental cleaning out to do.
It was not until New Year’s Day of 2014 that I decided to take a shot at expanding things with Sophie. I called her up, and since our apartments weren’t too far apart (though she still lived with her parents), I found myself at hers in no time. She was watching an old Chris Rock movie with a friend of hers named Loveth, and I slotted myself in. Sophie then offered me a drink and the cliche plate of fried rice, and when it seemed like I was hesitating, Loveth egged me on, saying:
“Eat na, she didn’t put love potion inside. ”
I began to acquaint myself with Loveth, waiting for the right moment to broach the subject for which I had shown up, when I heard Sophie say:
“There is something I want to show you. ”
She handed something over to me. I looked closely, and what I saw made my heart sink. It was an invitation card to her wedding, to take place in two Saturdays. I knew she had been single months earlier, and she once jokingly made a reference to how her father was piling pressure on her, but I had no idea she would make a decision soon enough.
“Sorry I didnt tell you earlier, I have been really busy. I hope you will be there”, she continued.
My soul burned. Another one pulled from within reach, I mused. Luckily I was travelling to Afang Country the following day for a nine-month-long sojourn, saving myself the torture of mulling over what would have been. I congratulated her with words which didnt get past the back of my tongue, and I assured her of my presence, even if we both knew I was lying.
Loveth expressed her desire to leave, and I offered to walk her home. Loveth and I would eventually stay outside talking until minutes to midnight, and she expressed dismay at the fact that I was travelling the following day. We ultimately got to talk a lot more often, and she even expressed interest in a romantic relationship, though she retracted her “yes” days later, citing distance, age (she was two years older), and a desire to be a Mrs. in good time….but that is another story.
I quickly substituted the oily notes and rushed down to take a seat like a customer who needed help. There had been little communication between Sophie and I, but I was aware that she had given birth to a son, who was a little over a year old. She still had that giggly smile, her dark skin still glittered, and not much had been added to her body mass.
“Great to see you”, she said.
“Been a lifetime, Sophie”, I responded.
“So how may i help you? ”
“I need help, Sophie. There have been no deposits into my emotional account, it has remained dormant. “.
She chuckled, and with that we went on to other issues; how the poor remuneration for lawyers had driven her into the waiting arms of the bank sector, why I had decided to leave home for Lagos, and how married life had been kind to her. While we talked, my eyes kept darting to and from two items; the ring on her finger, and a key handle containing a passport photo of her little son Jason, keen reminders of the fact that she was out of reach. My winks were apparently distracting her, as she kept mixing up some figures and couldnt focus on real customers, so I decided to excuse her.
“We should keep in touch”, she said, writing out her phone number in a small piece of paper and passing it to me.
I typed in the number into my phone, pretending to save it. I felt that there was no need adding her to my contact list; I did not need sore reminders of the things I could never have. I picked a pen from her table, simply scribbled the words “Sophie, I missed you”, mouthed parting pleasantries, and made my way out of the banking hall.