Unlike a harmattan morning, the clouds stood clear as an August sky. The air moved warm, gripping the skin and drying the lips forming cracks like cool breeze on clay floors. The windows, closed for comfort, were covered with dust showing off the vague presence of its motion. Araifie reached for the shea-butter container at her bedside, the huge creamy mass had reduced into tiny semi-circular folds and the circles, each one distinct, felt familiar as she rubbed gently her lips. The folds present beside her ribs—the weight they resonated—were as soft as the butter but she knew too that that was not only the familiarity they reminded her of.
The year had been deeply convoluted and the butter in its glory showed just how sublime it had all been. The beep broke the morning’s silence. Araifie reached for her phone and saw the cause. It was Tammy. Tammy had been with her all year through the different undulations and it felt coincidental when she thought about it. Looking back to how they met, it surprised her just how they had become friends, friends that talked about mundane things as well as the important.
Eleven months had elapsed since a mutual friend had introduced them at the End-of-Year Gala for Catholic Students of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Calabar. At the time, she had been in her second-year studying Sociology and he studying Economics, in his third-year. After getting to know each other a lot better, sandwiched by some innocent flirting, they both decided that being “just friends” was enough. And they were, great friends in fact. This time though, she held no desire to be interrupted. She placed the phone and waited. It came again—the beep. Her irritation heightened as she read them—the two messages.
Tammy: Thank you for calling yesterday.
For listening first and talking afterwards.
Araifie: You don’t have to thank me, I’m glad you can talk openly with me.
Tammy: You feel special there, abi?
Araifie: Kind of.
Tammy: You should. I thought about all you said.
Tammy: And, it felt like a different time.
Araifie: It was. You were…
Tammy: Do you still feel… I am?
Like we are open to talk about anything?
Araifie: Maybe. For me, there are hardly any others, Tam.
Araifie: Our friendship started from individual experiences. So, you should understand.
Tammy: I do.
(Hoping it was the end, she placed the phone down and straightened her wrapper to cover her legs)
Tammy: I’d miss talking to you, Ifie.
Araifie: Is that a hard thing?
I’d miss you too.
Tammy: You know finality scares me, Ifie.
It makes me worried, sad, unsure.
It’s not something you are unaccustomed to with me. Or, is it?
Araifie: It’s not.
You’d be fine.
We’d be fine.
Whatever we become, we’d still be able to sit down and talk.
A huge part of us is in being present.
Absence is a bit harder.
I’d love to see you again.
Tammy: Me too.
I miss you, Ifie.
Araifie: On a scale of one to ten, how much?
Tammy: A ten.
Araifie: Since when?
Tammy: Since we last talked.
Tam, I think…
I think you are in love.
Tammy: Lol. I don’t think I have a reply to that.
I could say, yes…
But then, I learnt recently that physicality makes you less objective.
Araifie: Lol. That’s a lesson from Life 101.
Tammy: There are many times I have been less objective, not now.
See your head.
Araifie: Perhaps, it is a phase.
Araifie: The guy I loved back in the day—or thought I loved—the same thing…
We all move on eventually.
Araifie: I look at him sometimes and ask myself what I saw in him.
Tammy: Perhaps, I am realizing fully that I might never see you again and I need time to adjust.
Araifie: Yes, that’s true.
Tammy: Where’s he now?
Araifie: Still there.
Araifie: There. Here. Calabar. I feel nothing for him. I almost had to think about that.
I want to know.
Araifie: Are you serious? Why?
Tammy: I’d like to know what he did, so, I can do it too.
And also, you know about my ex
Araifie: Really? You are already doing it.
Tammy: It’d be fair.
Araifie: We are doing this?
Araifie: It was Obinna, in your level.
Tammy: The tall, dark guy?
Araifie: I think so…
I liked him a lot.
We never dated though.
Tammy: What happened, exactly?
Araifie: I was afraid of him in a way. I felt there was something dark about him.
So, I told him I couldn’t deal but it was hard to stand by my decision.
It hurt back then.
We are good friends today.
Tammy: Still are?
Araifie: Not as close but good.
Tammy: Good for you.
I fear, sometimes, that I’d never feel that innocent, hopeful feeling with someone else like I did for Diana.
For me, it was really hard. We were friends, unsteady, and we’d go for months without keeping in touch, although we’d run into each other.
I still liked her a lot.
And it hurt. Because I tried to stop liking her.
And that did not work.
I finally asked her out, and she accepted.
We didn’t last long.
Araifie: Do you still like her that much?
First love is like that—hopeful.
Tammy: I do like her, still.
Not in the same way.
Araifie: My first love is like a brother to me, today.
We are so close.
Tammy: Then, I was willing to do anything, to compromise beyond reason just to have her for some time, to myself.
I was young, in love.
And for the next year and a half, I suffered.
It was a long drawn-out, painful episode.
I never really stopped loving her.
I just accepted that we would never work out.
We talked about getting back together and I wanted that.
But I could not bring myself to let go of that hurt.
I think it made me a different person. For a while.
I had to go full circle to realize that wasn’t me.
I do like commitment, someone to call mine.
I am just scared of giving someone else that much power over me, over my moods.
Honestly, it’s one of the huge experiences I’ve had in my life and it’s shaped me in ways I still can not see.
I couldn’t trust her not to walk away, yet again. And that hurt.
It hurt both of us.
Araifie: I understand.
Araifie: I think that has been the most honest you’ve been about it.
I get the rebound player-phase.
I understand that. The need to do something.
Throwing love in the faces of others because you can.
I feel though that we eventually move on.
Tammy: We do.
Some faster than others.
Araifie: And, sometimes, it’s harder than we imagine.
I have a friend that doesn’t like to love, to be in love
She fights it and when I think about it, I understand.
All my pain, I don’t apologize for them, though.
Tammy: I can relate to that, emotionally. I guess it has made you the person you are.
I am not independent from it.
Tammy: True. You’d have to be emotionless to be.
Araifie: I think it’s the same with you.
I think who you are and all isn’t totally dependent on that experience alone.
I feel there’s a part of it that comes from who you have always been.
Sometimes, who you have never thought you were.
Lately, I have this distilled thing about love.
That sometimes we just need to wait. Wait to fill up ourselves.
Wait to be sure about who we think we are.
Wait on ourselves to come into our own.
And, sometimes, I think it’s because we need to be the right size to love another.
And, so we can be able to tell who is able to love us.
When I came home after Obinna, I felt right at home.
I was able to let go, nicely, and appreciate him.
I think selfishness is the reason why we always want things to go our way, even in love.
We always know when someone is not right for us.
I came to terms with that, with him, that I would never be for him and him for me.
Tammy, we always know these things, somehow. We just don’t want to believe it.
When I believed it, it made me prepared for the future.
Tammy: I agree. It must have been defining.
Araifie: It was.
Tammy: We always know when someone is not right for us.
Araifie: Yes, we do. Always.
Tammy: I think these experiences all contribute to light up our path.
In my phase, I met different amazing people.
Araifie: I happen to be part of that.
Tammy: Lol. Perhaps, a little, yeah.
I faced pain, Ifie. Real pain. And I overcame that, even when it seemed like it had no end.
Tammy: So, there is a bigger plan, somewhere.
And everything fits.
Araifie: Yes, when they are the right size.
The words and the reality of their meaning felt perfect in timing, even as they continued. Araifie understood why the folds felt familiar—the depth in their significance. It was simple. It was the right time to strengthen them. She smiled as she thought it through.
She could do something about it—about the folds of anger, sadness and pain—as it was the right time to fix them all, to fix her life, even the memory of a rape.
By Mide O.