I feel a slight dip in the altitude. It is enough to break my concentration in the book I am reading. I glance beside me to the sea of cottony clouds drifting by my window. It’s so beautiful up in the air. I turn to my companion, the young woman seated on my other side. Anulika has been my friend since secondary school. She has her earpiece steadfastly stuck to her ears, and she’s nodding to and humming the song playing from her phone’s music player.
I can’t help the smile that tugs at my lips as I observe her. We have both come a long way from when Michael broke her heart and treated her like trash. Presently, we are traveling for a vacation, which we’d purposely planned to coincide with Michael’s wedding, an attempt to get her mind off the impending nuptials.
My name is Jane. I am a banker. I work with Fidelity Bank in Lugbe, Abuja. Anulika and I were classmates and friends back in Government Secondary School, Nyanya. And this is a simple story of karma.
“SOPHIE-MICHAEL 2016…” I frown down at my phone screen, slightly irked. Who would add me to an unsolicited whatsapp group with a wedding caption as the group name? I hate it when people add me to groups without asking me first. With an irritated sigh, I click on the button that will navigate me to the place where I can exit the group. Scrolling down through the list of members of the group, I notice that they are all my secondary school classmates. Seeing the pictures of so many people, whom I had lost touch with – and would like to get back in contact with, some for genuine reasons and mostly out of curiosity – I decide to stay on in the group.
Hello! What’s going on here? Who added me to this group, and what is it all about? I type, and then navigate out of whatsapp, back to the Candy Crush game I was playing before I decided to check my whatsapp messages.
I get lost in the game. My brain only faintly registers the pinging sounds that keep coming as I play. I eventually run out of lives for both Candy Crush saga and Candy Crush soda saga. I sigh and return to her home screen, intent on going to sleep.
It is May 1st, 2015, a Friday public holiday, and I intend to get as much sleep and rest as I can, as I am usually busy all the days of the week with work. And oftentimes, when I got the weekend off, I have to go back to my father’s house in Nyanya on Friday evening for the purpose of my church activities, which I am committed to. I really have very little time to kick back.
Just as I shove the phone under my pillow and turn to sleep, one lonely but loud ping comes again. Groaning, I pull out my phone to check, firmly deciding to turn off my data once I am done checking this message.
It is a whatsapp notification, and I scroll over to the app to behold 68 messages from the group. I begin to read, scrolling down as my eyes dart over the digital text.
“Ahh… Michael Onyeishi is the one wedding! Hmm, the idiot!” I mutter, as I continue reading and scrolling down the phone screen.
“And he wants us all to do asoebi? He’s not serious! Who has any kind of money to waste on his yeye wedding?” I fume.
“Oh my! The material is fine oh!” I gush. I’d just seen a photo of the fabric’s sample, and I feel my resentment begin to cave under the onslaught of my number one weakness – clothes.
As I continue down the whatsapp chat, my murmurs of displeasure and gasps of delight taking turns to escape my mouth, I feel my mind burrow backward to the root of my conflicting emotions on the issue of Michael Onyeishi…
…And Anulika Ndukaku.
After secondary school, I more or less lost touch with all my classmates, as they mostly attended Northern-based universities, while I went all the way to Abia State University to study Accountancy. I only got back in contact with Anulika during National Youth Service, which I’d successfully worked down to Abuja.
Anulika and I did a lot of catching up, and of course, as is the manner of girls, our gist soon veered to the topic of boys. I dished on who I was dating at the moment, revealing tongue-in-cheek my intention of dumping him once I landed the amorous attention of a senator’s son here in the NYSC camp. (Who was I kidding kwanu? The offspring of well-heeled politicians rarely joined the rest of us unwashed masses in the camp). I don’t know why I didn’t noticed her reluctance to share stories of her own love life at first, but soon, I cued in to her disinclination, and I found myself prodding her revelations out of her. She and Michael were dating, she said, but I had to promise not to let anyone else know that I know, especially Michael. It was necessary for her to make this assertion because I’d earlier told her that Michael was one of the few out of our mates from secondary school who I’d retained contact with post high school.
Michael and I had attended the same church in Abia State. His father had been transferred out of Abuja just before we took our Senior WAEC, and he traveled to the East immediately after our final exams. I sought him out when I got admission in ABSU, and we’d been fairly friendly. As Anulika told me of their relationship which was reportedly two years old, I found it odd that he’d never mentioned her to me in the times we’d run into each other and chatted about school, life and old classmates.
However, I was elated for Anulika, even though I found myself nursing a faint bad feeling about this.
As the days we spent in camp progressed, culminating into our passing out and attainment of good appointments in organisations that were a dream for the avaricious Abuja-based corper, Anulika and I became closer, firmed our friendship. And so, I was privy to the details and state of her relationship with Michael. And the more I learned, the more dismayed I got. The relationship was too, sadly, one-sided, with Anulika being the one-half who loved more and gave more. It was very exasperating to observe their dynamics.
Michael didn’t live in Abuja, and often times, when they made plans for him to visit, he’d ask her for money for his air fare. She’d send the money to him, and thereafter he’d spin her some story that’d end with his profusely-expressed regret that he couldn’t visit after all. He borrowed money endlessly from her, requests that were more expediently granted when he made them in her company, during the rare times he visited, probably cooed into her ears right in the middle of their pillow talk. Anulika, in an unconscious bid to evidence her contentment in her relationship to me, often showed me the romantic text messages Michael sent her, and each time, I found myself fighting back a gag of incredulity; the insincerity of Michael’s charm was glaring in his texts, clearly just to me, seeing as my friend refused to see him for the blood-sucking demon he was whenever I brought up my concerns.
The worst – and in my opinion, insulting – part was his insistence on keeping their relationship a secret. I could only stomach my growing resentment for so long before I let slip to him that I knew he was dating Anulika. I’d intended that revelation to be the precursor to my chastisement over his treatment of my friend. That talk didn’t end well, and he must have turned the brunt of his displeasure on Anulika, because hours after I hung up on him, she called me to give me a good tongue-lashing. Feeling at once contrite and indignant, I’d tried to get my apology in edgewise of her diatribe, but she hadn’t called to hear me say ‘I’m sorry’. She promptly hung up on me, and subsequently began to avoid me. I bombarded her with my apology via whatsapp texts and BBM messages, but my apparent remorse did nothing cool off her antagonism. Even when she finally agreed to let us patch things up, and we started hanging out again, it was clear we were not back where we once were. She was less forthcoming about her life, a clear indication that she’d slammed the door on ever letting me back into her trust. Our friendship limped along until we passed out from youth service, and then I’d had enough of her aloofness. I’d also just gotten a job with Fidelity Bank. So I stopped trying with her, and our association naturally expired.
And this was over a man who didn’t treat her right. I didn’t know who I resented more, her or Michael.
Almost a year after we drifted apart, I saw a Facebook post updated by Michael; he was eulogizing an Ogechi as the love of his life. It was an extravagant post, with such flowery lines, and had attached to it photos of him canoodling with some fair-skinned, dimpled girl.
My first thought was instantly to call Anulika.
“Hey babe!” I said as cheerily as I could manage when she picked my call. “What’s up?”
“Nne, I am fine oh! I’ve been meaning to call you since oh! Longest time!” She said all this with a gush that I thought odd, given the circumstance.
I shrugged and played along. “Eiyaa! How is work now?”
“Work is fine. And yours?”
And just like that, as our conversation flowed freely back and forth, it seemed we were picking up the broken pieces of our friendship and patching it back up.
“…I wish I had a place to spend the weekend away from my parent’s home,” she was lamenting. “Those people are something else.”
“Welcome to my world, or should I say, my world until two weeks ago,” I commiserated. “I was posted to Lugbe, and transporting myself to work all the way from Nyanya to Lugbe was just too stressful. So my parents allowed me to get an apartment in Lugbe.”
“Wow! Babe, you’re living the life!” she gushed.
“Not quite sha. I still have to go home some weekends, because I still hate to hand-wash my clothes, and I haven’t furnished the place yet.”
“Well, we already live in the heart of Abuja. What reason would I have for my folks to move to anywhere?” she asked rhetorically.
“It’s true oh! And to think that we all used to envy you back then in school,” I said with a chortle.
“Whareva!” She laughed. “I’m coming over to yours this weekend. We need to catch up. Work has really drawn us apart.”
Work. Right. If she was going to conveniently blame our jobs for the gap in our communication, I wouldn’t contest that.
“How I wish I’d listened to you!” Anulika sobbed. It was Saturday, and she’d visited. Midway through our catching, the sore subject that was Michael had come up, and it wasn’t long before she broke down into a sobbing mess. “Oh Jane, men are so wicked! That bastard didn’t even wait twenty-four hours after I broke up with him before posting those pictures of him and that girl on Facebook. He never acknowledged me online, not once!” she wailed. Her tears streamed faster down a face that was contorted with reminiscent misery and reignited hurt.
“I’m so sorry…” I murmured, not knowing what else to say. Reminding her of the signals which I’d pointed out to her wasn’t going to help at all.
“He has also refused to pay me back my money, every penny he borrowed from me,” Anulika recounted, teary rage flashing across her eyes as her fingers clenched harder over the handkerchief I’d earlier handed to her. “He says he didn’t borrow from me. Can you imagine?”
I could imagine. I’d always known Michael was the lowest of the low. I felt my heart constrict with rancour.
“I wanted to buy a land,” Anulika continued. “My office people were organizing one estate land like that, and I wanted to invest, but he had an issue with school, where he was doing his Masters, and I gave him that money. Now, he’s saying he didn’t borrow the money! That sonofabitch!” More globules of tears slipped from her eyes as her face tightened with remembered rage and regret.
“Did he ask you for the money before you gave it to him?” I enquired.
“Not really. He just kept complaining, and I didn’t know what else to do…” Her voice petered off. She’d obviously realized just how much she’d been played.
Apart from those dampening moments when our conversation found its way to Michael, the weekend was fun, and very enjoyable. By Sunday evening, it was clear her stay with me had been cathartic for her. She’d needed to vent about Michael, an outlet it would seem no one had provided for her until now. As she left my apartment, she had a softness in her eyes, a calmness to her smile that revealed a woman finally on her way to healing. As we hugged at the junction before the taxi she’d hailed, we were both aware that her pain was my pain, and that Michael had become our collective enemy.
Me: Have you seen our secondary school whatsapp group?
Anulika: Yes oh! I was the first person the anuofia added to the group.
Me: Michael added you to the group that’s now talking about his wedding? (I am incredulous)
Anulika: Hmm, my dear. Leave talk.
Me: That guy is a big goat!
Anulika: Tell me something I don’t know.
Anulika: Are you going by the way?
Me: I don’t know oh! Are you?
Anulika: I thought of something else.
Me: What’s that?
Anulika: You know how we have been planning a vacation, right?
Anulika: I was thinking about what we can do around that period, and in Lagos. That way, we don’t have to make up our minds immediately if we will attend the wedding or not.
Me: Wow! Cool plan! Let’s plan towards it.
Anulika: The asoebi is free oh! Indicate under Abuja, let them send your own too.
Me: Let them send my own too?
Anulika sends a laugh smiley.
Me: Don’t tell me you ordered for the asoebi.
Anulika: I did. It’s free. Plus it’s a fine material.
Me: What am I doing with his asoebi? Even if I will go, I won’t be in uniform joor!
Anulika: Just collect it first. If we’re going, no one will turn you away for not wearing it to the wedding.
Anulika: Yes. And, if you later change your mind about it, you have it available to wear.
Me: Good idea.
It is two weeks to the wedding, and a week to the start of our vacation. Anulika and I have both secured our yearly leave-of-absence from our respective workplaces, starting a day before our flight out of Abuja. Our itinerary has been drawn out, and it includes all the fun things we could think of getting on to in Lagos. During our preparations, we have studiously and intentionally avoided the mention of Michael’s wedding.
Upon the thought of contacting a couple of our old classmates from secondary school who reside in Lagos to inform them of our imminent arrival and to confirm plans for a hangout, I call Ayomide.
“Hello?” she answers on the first ring.
“Hey, Ayo! It’s Jane – Jane Ochuwa. How far?”
“HEY!” she screams her excitement over the phone in a voice so shrill, I have to take the phone away from my ears for a moment. “Babe! How did you get my number?!”
“From the whatsapp group,” I reply. “You’re still in Lagos, right?”
“Yeah. Babe, they just had to close down the group jaré! That thing can be painful.” She sighs.
I am too focused on what I want to say to pick up on what she has just imparted. “So listen, Anulika – you remember Anulika, right – she and I are coming over to Lagos next week. I hope you can spare time for us? I’m going to call Azizat too, so that we can all hang out –”
“Erm… What are you guys coming to do?” she interrupts me to ask.
“Michael’s wedding now! But we’re coming a week earlier for some downtime.” I am a bit surprised by her question.
“Michael’s wedding ke?” she says. “Where have you been this past week? Surely not in the whatsapp group.”
“I don’t understand. Was the date moved?”
“Kai! This girl! You have not changed! You’re still always the last to get information!” Ayomide chides.
“What information?” I asked, slightly perplexed.
“Michael was jilted! His babe called off the wedding!” she announces with all the seriousness of an E! news correspondent dishing out some bit of scandalous celebrity gossip.
“Oh my!” I exclaim, feeling a smile and a snicker coming on. The smile successfully breaks through, but I press my lips down to swallow back the snicker. “Did they quarrel?”
“Hmm… My dear, they did oh!” Ayomide promptly settles into the gist. She sounds like she’s been waiting for the opportunity to disseminate the unfortunate incident with a willing listener. “Right after their traditional marriage, the babe said she’s no longer doing. In fact, she has traveled out of the country as we speak.”
“Oh God! This is goo – er…gruesome,” I stutter. Ayomide can’t know how happy this makes me. “But are we certain that they won’t make up before next week?” I ask, hoping to God for an answer in the negative.
“Nah! That ship sailed a long time ago. There were rampant speculations about Michael’s untrustworthiness.”
“Untrustworthiness? What do you mean?”
“My dear, I don’t know the full details, but just know the talk was serious enough to make his ex-fiancée break off the engagement and call off the wedding. Gist has it that Michael and his people even went to collect the dowry that he paid back from the girl’s father, and he asked his guards to escort them out of his compound.”
“Wow!” I say.
I remember hearing talk about Michael’s fiancée being the daughter of some very affluent man based in Port Harcourt. Anulika and I had thought cynically that Michael was just marrying her for her money; we didn’t think him capable of love, the callous bastard that he is.
“I wonder what he did to her. After everything had been set for the wedding, she just calls it off as if it’s nothing?”
“It’s not a small thing oh!” Ayomide exclaims in wonder. “I mean, every single thing had been paid for and set for the wedding oh! Chai! I just feel for Michael. His number has been switched off since that last week.” She sighs.
“Oh boy!” I had nothing more to add.
“My sister, na so we see am oh!”
“Well, Anulika and I are still coming to Lagos anyway. I mean, we’ve already planned it and gotten our tickets.”
“No problem. We’ll hang when you guys get here. It’s going to be real fun! How long are you guys staying, let me plan your itinerary for you.” She quickly switches gears, the gloom of Michael’s misfortune evaporating from her voice.
Oo yanu! Eburu ozu onye ozo… I think sardonically. “I will call you back when I have discussed with Azizat,” I say.
“Ok then. Bye!”
Our call ends.
“YES!” I scream to my empty room, laughing hysterically. “Karma is a BITCH!” Then I turn back to my phone, anxious to break the news to Anulika.
“Hey! Earth to Jane.”
I feel a tap on my arm and I blink. Anulika swims into focus before me.
She is smiling as she asks, “Where did you travel to?”
“My mind wandered away for a bit,” I say, coming back from the past. “What’s up?”
“We’re about to land. The pilot just announced. Fasten your seatbelt.”
“Oh!” I begin to fiddle with my seatbelt. “Here goes.”
“This is going to be real fun!” she squeals, giggling like a kid in a candy shop.
Written by Sallie