“Madam we don reach.” The taxi driver said, putting the car in Park.
Akudo took a deep breath, then thanked him and paid the fare.
She looked at the address on her phone to confirm the apartment number, then stared up at the apartment building.
She could not say she was entirely surprised that he lived in a high-rise. Femi seemed very much like the type to have a proper, “typical”, metropolitan bachelor pad; and a high-rise apartment complex was more or less a mini metropolis.
Akudo sighed and looked back at the taxi cab that was disappearing in the distance.
She should have stayed home.
It was not because she did not want to socialize; she had made a promise to herself that she would do more of that. It was because on this particular day, she was just not in the mood to make small-talk.
The day had not particularly begun on a good note.
The boys had been at her mother’s since school let out a week prior, and she had used the opportunity to do some much-needed cleaning. She usually gave Roseline, the housekeeper, time off whenever the boys were not around; but Roseline had insisted on staying back to help her clean.
She was grateful for the woman. She had been nothing but amazing to Akudo and her children, so Akudo never hesitated to reward her whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Every once in a while though, Roseline would do something that set Akudo’s teeth on edge. Roseline’s selflessness and willingness to go above and beyond made it easy for Akudo to forgive her occasional blunders, but it did not make them any less infuriating.
That morning, Akudo had stared at Roseline in absolute horror as she poured 2 caps of liquid laundry detergent into the mopping bucket. Akudo had reined in her anger when she asked Roseline why she had done it, but she completely lost it when Roseline said it was because she liked the smell of it.
The only reason Akudo had continued to buy the expensive laundry detergent was because she wanted to reduce stress on Roseline by washing more clothes in the machine rather than have Roseline wash by hand. Yet here she was, wasting the exorbitantly priced liquid on mopping. Akudo was not sure whether she was angrier at the insensitivity to her pockets, or the fact that her floors had been continually mopped with soapy water.
It was certainly a horrid start to her day, and had left her irritable for most of it.
By the time 6PM rolled around, she was searching her mind for a great excuse to get out of attending the get-together.
Ronke must have been suspecting she was doing just that because at 6:06PM, she sent a text message and it read “Babe, looking forward to seeing you tonight. It have tayed small.”
In truth, she was surprised that Ronke even wanted her there. Of course neglecting to invite her would have been extremely suspicious, but she did not need to do a reminder. In fact, she could have let Akudo be the wet blanket that she was, and not show up.
The insistence could only mean one thing – Ronke wanted to use this opportunity to show Akudo that she had Femi wrapped around her little finger.
Akudo also knew her friend well enough to know this was also a chance for Ronke to convince herself that she truly had nothing to worry about; and it was for this reason Akudo decided to attend.
As much as Ronke’s insecurities had hurt their friendship, Akudo still loved her enough to not want her to live in turmoil in her own relationship.
Ronke deserved to be happy; and if she had found that happiness with Femi, Akudo was going to do everything within her power to make sure her friend stayed happy.
So, she decided to attend the get-together; and keep well away from Femi.
Akudo paused at the apartment door, and took several deep breaths, then pressed the doorbell.
She was reaching for the doorbell again when the door swung open, and Ronke threw herself at her.
Akudo grunted as she struggled to keep her balance. She was rather unprepared for the hug, and it felt a bit forced and exaggerated; but Akudo kept her smile warm as she said “babe, long time.”
“I know abi? I know I have been scarce and stuff but you know how it is.” Ronke said, winking at Akudo. “Anyway, come in!”
Ronke gave Akudo a quick once-over before dragging her into the apartment, and Akudo could have sworn she saw surprise and annoyance flash in her eyes.
When she walked into the apartment and beheld the guests, Akudo instantly understood.
Ronke had emphasized and re-emphasized that it was just a casual get-together; essentially a group of friends hanging out, so the dress code was casual and comfortable. To her credit, Akudo had suspected that Ronke’s repeated use of the word “casual” might have been a ploy to get her to dress as plain as possible, and she was right. There were only a few people present, but most of the women amongst them had full faces of make-up. Though their outfits were casual, they were more casual chic than boring casual. Ronke, on the other hand, who was supposed to be the co-host of sorts, was a bombshell in a studded ankara playsuit. The fact that it was a playsuit made it seem casual, and she even tried to dress it down with rubber slippers; but the flawless make-up and bone-straight, past-her-waist, Peruvian wig told a different story.
Since Akudo had not attended with the intention of impressing anybody, she was not sure if she would have actually felt out of place if she came make-up free, and in a loose-fitting bubu; but she was glad she hadn’t.
Her black blazer over a baby blue v-neck cotton tee, paired with dark wash blue skinny jeans was the perfect ensemble.
“Hi everyone!” Ronke called out loudly, “This is my bestie Akudo.”
All heads turned in their direction, and Akudo suddenly felt the room go warm. Why did Ronke have to be so…Ronke?
“Hey you! Glad you made it.” Femi beamed, appearing in front of her and giving her a quick kiss on her left cheek.
He gestured towards each person in the room as he introduced them.
There were three men and three women, and Akudo was trying to register their names when Femi said “and of course you remember Timeyin.”
It was not a question, but Akudo was tempted to say “no;” for the man that stood up to extend a hand to her with something that looked like a smile on his face was nothing like the rude, brooding, ill-mannered buffoon she had met a little over a month ago.
Also, Ronke was right; he was handsome.
In truth she actually had no idea what he looked like because he had a hat on the first time they met, and had kept his face low. Buried in his phone actually. She could have walked right past him, and not even realised who he was.
The smile and his good-looks changed nothing though.
He was still an ass.
Akudo gave a curt nod as she took his hand.
He noticed her reaction. It did not seem to surprise him.
She did not care.
She thanked Femi for the introductions. He waved it away with a gesture of his hands, and headed off to the kitchen.
That was odd. She had come with the intention to keep a distance from Femi and prove to her friend that she had nothing to worry about, but she certainly did not expect Femi to keep his distance.
It was very odd, and it stung a little because she suddenly felt insignificant; but all in all, it was a good thing. It would make getting through the night a lot easier.
Akudo was looking around for where to sit when Timeyin walked up to her with one of the dining chairs. A flat “thank you” was all she said as she took the chair from him and placed it to the right of the couch – putting a good distance between her and where he sat to the left of the couch.
She was seated beside an adorable-looking couple. They did not appear married, but it was obvious that they were in love. The way their hands always seemed to find their way back to each other, the quick glances, the occasional private jokes.
“So, Akudo right?” One half of the couple asked, startling Akudo a little.
“Yes.” Akudo felt terrible that she could not remember her name.
“My name is Taiwo – just in case you are like me that has to hear a name twice to remember it.” She said, a smile playing on her lips.
Akudo liked her already; not enough to admit she had forgotten her name though.
“How come you remembered mine?” She ventured instead.
“I like the name. I like the way it sounds. What does it mean?” Taiwo asked.
“An abundance of peace. Lots of peace. Peace in abundance; but ‘Aku’ is also used to mean ‘wealth’ so some people define it as ‘peaceful wealth;’ but it’s actually ‘an abundance of peace’.” Akudo stopped herself. She was babbling.
“I would have chosen ‘Peaceful wealth’. You know, like wealth wey no get wahala?”
“I like that kind of wealth too.” Akudo laughed.
“Did somebody say something about wealth?” Femi said, plopping himself onto a perpendicular couch, in between two ladies – neither of which were Ronke.
“How won’t you hear that one?” Taiwo chided. “Then you will say you don’t have Igbo blood.”
“He is worse than Igbo, he is Ijebu.” Timeyin threw in.
“Ijebu people mise their money, but Igbo people are always looking for how to make more. There is a clear difference.” Taiwo retorted.
Taiwo, suddenly realizing an Igbo woman was seated beside her, turned to Akudo and asked “abi no be so?”
Akudo was impressed that Taiwo did not try to apologise or say “no offense meant.”
“Yep!” Akudo quipped. “We believe in working hard and leaving legacies so yes, if there is more money to be made, why not?”
“Boom!” Taiwo said, as if Akudo’s words were all the proof she needed.
“I wouldn’t be quick to claim Femi as Igbo though. Sometimes it’s just greed.” Akudo added, burying her face in the glass of cranberry juice that Ronke had placed in front of her moments earlier.
“Ye!” Taiwo’s boyfriend exclaimed, putting both hands on his head for dramatic effect. “Your rep! Femi, ah!”
All the others present reacted either with laughter or some comment about his reputation taking a hit, but Femi only smiled.
“Akudo-one, Femi-zero.” He said finally, fixing Akudo with a stare. It was a promise to deliver his comeback at a later time.
“Abeg oh, leave my friend alone.” Ronke said, squeezing herself beside Femi, and almost knocking the lady that previously occupied that spot to the ground. “Besides, she has a point and you know it.”
Akudo could have sworn she saw Femi slightly shift away from Ronke, but the smile he sent her way, and the brief squeeze of her leg implied otherwise. He had merely adjusted to give her more room.
It was only then that Akudo noticed the sheen of sweat on Ronke’s brow. She had been so busy trying to keep her distance from Femi and Timeyin while making conversation with relative strangers that she had not noticed her friend was buzzing about the apartment playing host.
Worse still, she had not offered any assistance.
Akudo was on her feet in an instant.
She made it to where Ronke sat wedged between Femi and a lady who now wore a scowl on her face, and took the tray from her hands. “Here, let me help.”
Before Ronke could protest, Akudo was already going from person to person, offering the contents of the tray.
Moments later, Akudo glanced back at Ronke who had nestled her head into the crook between Femi’s head and his left shoulder blade.
They made a stunning pair. No doubt they would make beautiful children.
Akudo shook the thought from her head, scolding herself for sounding like her mother.
Ronke whispered something to Femi, and a look passed between them. It was then that Akudo saw it. She saw how Ronke had surrendered her heart to him. How she loved him, and would do absolutely anything for him.
In that moment, Akudo sent up a prayer for this to be the man that Ronke finally finds her ‘forever’ with. Even the heavens could attest to the fact that it was long overdue.
The hours passed quickly.
They played Charades, and then Taboo. In between they had conversations and arguments – some of them getting quite heated, especially when Taiwo was involved. Akudo’s admiration for Taiwo grew by the minute. The girl did not back down from a fight, and was quite dynamic as she took on topics ranging from government to fashion. At some point, the games were all but forgotten and the arguments got so fierce that Femi had to diffuse the tension with music.
He must have known Taiwo’s genre of preference because she stopped speaking almost immediately, then pulled her boyfriend up to dance moments later.
The evening took a lighter turn after that. Ronke joined Taiwo and her boyfriend on the dance floor, taking Femi with her.
Gradually everyone else followed. All except Akudo, who was quite content to observe.
Ronke called out to her a few times but never left Femi’s side.
Akudo only smiled sadly.
The Ronke she knew would have pulled her off the chair and thrown her arms this way and that until she was forced to dance. Alas, this Ronke was too concerned with keeping she-wolves off her man to make a real effort.
Akudo wanted to shake her friend and tell her that she had nothing to feel insecure about, but she knew Ronke well enough to know it would not make a difference.
About half an hour later, Akudo busied herself with tidying up.
She cleared the dining table and returned to the living room to do some more tidying up. About two people had gone home but those left were still dancing ,so she returned to the kitchen to do the dishes.
“Hello.” Timeyin said curtly, walking into the kitchen.
“Hi.” Akudo said, glancing over her shoulder then halting the smile in its tracks once she realised who it was.
“Pardon me. I need to get under there.” Timeyin said, pointing towards the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. His expression unreadable.
Akudo moved a step to the left. He reached in and pulled out a roll of trash bags.
Akudo could have imagined it, but it felt like he was taking more time than necessary.
When he finally tossed the rest of the roll back after tearing a single bag off and stood up, she almost bumped into him while trying to slide back into position in front of the sink.
He was a little startled by that, but said nothing as he walked out towards the living room.
When he returned some minutes later, the trash bag was nearly full.
“That’s nice of you by the way.” He said, tying the trash bag neatly and leaning it against the bin.
Akudo sighed inwardly. He appeared to be a decent man – which made it very difficult to ignore him. “Well, I don’t think it is polite to make a mess and leave your host to deal with the aftermath.” She said flatly.
“I agree.” Timeyin quipped. “If Femi had a maid, now that would be a different story.”
It was an attempt at small talk, but Akudo was not interested.
Timeyin sighed quietly, then walked over to where Akudo stood and rested the back of his thighs against the counter beside her.
“It appears I owe you an apology.” He began, staring straight ahead.
Akudo said nothing.
“I was really not in the mood that day, and I was more or less forced to go but-”
“I was forced to go too, but you didn’t see me being all rude.” Akudo cut-in, unable to control the annoyance that rose to the surface.
She could not believe he was actually trying to justify his actions.
“I was trying to say that it was not an excuse to behave the way I did.” Timeyin said, emphasizing the first three words.
Akudo said nothing.
Timeyin sighed, long and loud.
“I was in a bad mood; and to be honest, I went to that dinner hoping to have fun and possibly forget my woes but then I saw your wedding ring. I am not a saint, but there are some lines I do not cross.”
Akudo opened her mouth to say something but Timeyin continued.
“I know you are not married. Well, not anymore. Femi told me that after the fact. Anyway, I’m sorry.”
Akudo would have been impressed by the fact that he was the kind of man to stay away from married women, if he had not ruined it by saying he was just looking to get laid as a solution to his problems. If Femi had not fallen for Ronke, she would probably have been helping her best friend nurse the broken heart that Timeyin would have no doubt given her because he wanted to “forget his woes”.
Akudo did not realise she was scowling until Timeyin cleared his throat.
“Wow. Was I really that terrible?”
The sigh escaped before Akudo could stop it.
If she was being honest with herself, he owed her nothing. Outside of their best friends being in love, they had nothing in common. They could have kept well out of each other’s way, and not feel the need to be anything but civil if they ever ran into one another.
“Apology accepted.” Akudo mumbled, scrubbing hard at a speck on the glass dish in her hand.
She did not have to like him, but she could at least tolerate him.
Timeyin nodded and pushed away from the counter.
Akudo thought he was leaving, but he merely reached for a hand towel that was hanging on one of the cabinets, returned to his position beside her but this time facing the counter, and began drying the wet dishes one at a time.
They worked in silence till all the dishes were washed, dried and put away.
“Admit it, you had fun.” Ronke said to Akudo, mischief dancing in her tired eyes.
“Let’s just say I’m glad I came.” Was all Akudo said.
“I’m spending the night here, if not I would have dropped you off.” Ronke said, meaning it.
“It’s okay. There is a taxi park right outside the estate, so I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll walk you.” Ronke said, yawning.
“Babe, I think you have done enough today. Go get some rest. It’s okay, I’ll walk her to the gate.” Femi said, taking Ronke by the waist and guiding her away from the door.
“Okay.” Ronke said amidst yawns. She pulled herself away from Femi and wrapped her arms around Akudo. “Goodnight babe. Thanks for coming.”
She pulled away, then staggered towards the bedroom.
“I think I’ll call it a night too.” Timeyin called from behind them.
Ronke waved to him without looking back, and disappeared behind the bedroom door.
They had walked in silence for about a minute before Femi finally spoke.
“I would have suggested Timeyin give you a ride home because he lives closer to your axis Akudo, but the deafening silence tells me that you two have not made up.”
Akudo opened her mouth to speak but Timeyin beat her to it.
“Nah, we are all good. I apologized, she accepted. I sense she still doesn’t like me, but I can live with that.”
Akudo opened her mouth to protest, but closed it again.
There was no use lying.
“Akudo, I don’t know you to be the type to keep a grudge.” There was genuine surprise in Femi’s tone.
“No grudges here.” Akudo lied. “Just a bit tired; and yes, my answer would have been ‘no’ because I don’t know him well enough to get into a car with him – especially at this hour.”
“That’s fair.” Timeyin said, in a tone that implied he was not keen on being stuck in a car alone with Akudo either.
“If you say so.” Femi sighed, coming to a stop outside his estate gate. “Wait here, let me get you a taxi.”
Femi walked towards the taxi park, leaving Akudo alone with Timeyin.
“You don’t have to wait.” She said finally.
He did not as much as look at Akudo’s face when he said it. He did not act as if it was an imposition either. He was being a gentleman, and it was driving Akudo insane.
“I didn’t know you had it in you.” She muttered audibly.
“What? Common decency?” He replied, his tone devoid of feeling.
Akudo snapped her head in his direction. “Yes. Exactly.”
Timeyin shook his head and looked away.
His nonchalance infuriated Akudo even more.
“I don’t understand how men like you think it is okay to just play with a woman’s heart.”
“Men like m-what are you talking about?” Timeyin whirled, nearly gaping at Akudo.
“You said you were only there to get laid.” Akudo said pointedly, trying to keep her voice measured, and completely ignoring the voice in her head that screamed for her to stop talking.
“I said I wanted to forget my troubles, but so what if it ended with sex?” Timeyin shot back, fully letting his annoyance show.
“Well did you ever stop to think that maybe the person you were going to see wanted more?” Akudo realized that she sounded ridiculous arguing over a hypothetical situation but she could not stop the words from tumbling out of her mouth.
“Well I would expect that if she wanted more, she wouldn’t jump into bed with a stranger on the first night!” He countered. He faced her fully now, and stared her down.
“You are all the same!” Akudo seethed, turning away from him.
“I take offense to that.” Timeyin said, walking around so he was standing in front of her again.
Timeyin looked towards the taxi car park, and saw Femi walking back towards them with a taxi in tow.
He moved closer to Akudo and lowered his voice. “If all of this is because I showed you no attention during the dinner; aside from the fact that I don’t do married women, you should know that I don’t do pretty girls either.”
“Who said I wanted to be done by you?” Akudo fired back, unbridled anger in her tone.
“Whoa whoa! What’s going on here?” Femi asked, jogging the last few paces to where they stood.
“Guy, I go see you later abeg.” Timeyin said to Femi, giving him a handshake and a pat over his right shoulder before walking back into the estate towards his parked car.
Femi turned towards Akudo who was already half-way into the taxi.
“Thanks for tonight. I had fun.” She said hurriedly before closing the door, prompting the cab driver, and asking herself why she did not just stay home.