‘Welcome home!’ Osa shouted from the crowd.
Imade waved and hurried to meet her brother, her face full of smiles. A wave of excitement swept over her as she stepped through the arrival gate, into the open air. It had been eighteen long and eventful months since she left the shores of the country, but now she was home. The euphoria from her time spent abroad paled in comparison to the precious memories which her homeland held.
They left the airport without further ado. The congestion on the roads was easing out, but pockets of traffic still held out at various intersections. Imade beckoned to one of the street hawkers and selected a light snack from his array of edible wares.
‘Shouldn’t you be on a diet?’ Osa teased, as she paid the boy. ‘We’ve already prepared dinner, you know.’
‘You’re not going to get on my case, are you?’ she replied lightheartedly. ‘You know I haven’t had these in a while.’
As they approached home, she placed a quick call. The phone on the other end immediately went into voice mail and she sighed in disappointment.
‘Hi,’ she said, at the voice prompt. ‘It’s me Imade and I’m back in the country. Call me as soon as you get this.’
The blue Honda Civic pulled into the cobblestoned driveway of their family home. As though on cue, Omoz, her sixteen year old brother, danced out of the pale green bungalow with shouts of welcome.
‘Hey kiddo,’ she teased him affectionately, as she alighted from the vehicle. He laughed and hugged her. He had always rebelled at the use of that word by his siblings, but for today, he would indulge her.
They made their way into the lavishly furnished sitting room. It was just the three siblings at home. Their mother, Iye was enjoying a quiet vacation in the United Kingdom. Imade had left her there and come home to resume her new job in Lagos.
‘I hope you bought my shirts.’ Omoz yelled, as he rolled in her suitcase.
‘Sure. But you’ll have to be patient while I unpack.’
‘Let’s have dinner first,’ Osa insisted.
The guys had prepared a meal of rice and fried plantains. The salt in the stew was applied a little too generously, but the plantains were delicious. Imade relished the delicacy; spooning in mouthfuls as she recounted her experience in diaspora to her brothers. After downing the last morsel on her plate, she called her mum to let her know she had arrived safely.
‘It’s great to be home,’ she said. ‘But I miss you and Ehis already.’
‘I miss you too,’ Iye replied. ‘I think Ehis is starting to feel your absence as well.’
‘Is he getting better?’ Imade asked with concern.
‘Yes. I just put him to sleep. The sneezing has reduced, but he still needs to complete his medication.’
‘Well, give him my love. The guys can’t wait to meet him when you return next week.’
The guys wanted to speak with their mother as well, so Imade left them grappling with the phone and retreated to her room. The familiar set up evoked warm sentiments in her. This was her haven. Someday, she hoped to leave her childhood home for good but for now, she would raise Ehis here.
Life had been good and the ladder of success was stretched out before her. Having successfully completed her Master’s program overseas, she landed a job at Avery; one of the fast growing banks, which offered her a promising career and a juicy remuneration package. To crown it all, Taye was eager to see her again. He had been crazy about her for as long as she could remember. Despite shunning his advances for several years, she still held his attention. She was sure that even the dramatic turn her life had taken wouldn’t make him withdraw his affections now.
Imade thought about how far she had come and a smile of contentment spread across her face. What else could a young lady wish for?
Four years earlier
The alarm let out a familiar chilling ring that jarred Imade’s nerves. It was Monday morning again. Dragging herself out of bed, she stole away to the open fields at the back of the hall. She always set the alarm an hour early. While most of her contemporaries slept, she took advantage of the solitude offered before day break to commune with her Rock. Although she wasn’t the only visitor to the field at this forbidden hour, the other girls roaming around were hardly a distraction. Within the recesses of her heart, Imade was alone with her Lord. She basked in His presence until the turn of the hour, and then slipped back to her room with renewed vigor.
The day kicked off with a tedious schedule of classes and study groups. With just five months before the end of the school year, most of the final year students felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation. They would soon graduate and then, what next? Simi however, seemed to have her life together. She already had a good job prospect, thanks to her mother who was pulling some strings in the corporate world. Preparations for her wedding to Dokun, her boyfriend of three years, were also underway. She had always said she would walk down the aisle at the age of twenty three and she knew how many children she and Dokun would have. Actually right now, the only things Simi wasn’t sure about were her wedding colors.
As they sat in the library, Imade watched her penning furiously at her research project. They might be best friends, but the two ladies couldn’t have been more different. Simi’s future was too predictable and boring. Imade was more adventurous, with a lure for the unknown. Lost in thought, she didn’t notice a dark complexioned, lanky young guy making his way towards their table, a stethoscope hung round his neck.
‘Hello ladies.’ His voice shattered the serenity of their study area.
They looked up and Simi flashed a knowing smile. ‘Taye!’ she exclaimed warmly. ‘What brings you here?’
‘I decided to stop by between my ward rounds to see one or two professors at the pre-med school,’ he replied, adjusting the pair of eye-glasses perched on his nose. ‘How is your project coming up?’
‘Almost done, I’m on the final chapter.’
Simi turned and gave her friend a slight kick in an effort to make her show more enthusiasm towards their guest. Imade couldn’t stop the slight chuckle that escaped her lips. Yet, despite the painful nudges coming from under the table, she obstinately refused to take up the discussion. Taye appeared oblivious of the silent communication ensuing between the two friends as he slipped into an empty seat.
Finally, Simi stood up, determined to win the silent battle. ‘Guys, excuse me while I go and work on that final chapter.’
Imade rolled her eyes and dismissed her. Why did everyone always seem to think she and Taye needed privacy?
‘You know,’ Taye said softly, after Simi left. ‘I didn’t only come by to see my professors. I also came by to see you.’
‘Really?’ she said.
‘I wanted to finish our last conversation. Remember the question I asked you? You still haven’t given me an answer.’
Imade knew immediately what he meant. ‘Yes, I have.’
‘Well, not exactly the answer I wanted. I was hoping you would change your mind.’
‘We’ll always be friends, you know.’
‘Best of friends.’
‘Is that final?’
For the first time, she turned to look at him. ‘There’s no point complicating matters, Taye. We’ll be better off as friends.’
Taye sighed. ‘I could stop at your place in the evening,’ he suggested. ‘Then we could talk some more.’
She began to protest, saying the sooner he came to terms with her decision, the easier it would be for both of them, but he hushed her gently.
‘Hey, you said we would be best of friends. There’s nothing wrong in friends visiting each other, is there?’
She shook her head. ‘No, I guess not.’
‘Alright, I’ll see you around seven.’ He gave her a friendly pat on the arm and got up.
Imade replied with a slight wave. She met Taye in her first year at the campus fellowship and they had remained buddies ever since. Over many months, they had enjoyed a few good laughs together. They offered each other a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on whenever needed, such that she began to take him like a brother. But now, he wanted more. Everybody expected more from their friendship. Even her mother, who met him during her last visit, described him as a charming young man. Imade winced at the thought. Taye might be charming, but they were not, in her opinion, a match made in heaven. She just didn’t care for him in that special way. In fact, these days with the way he went on and on, she couldn’t help wishing he would just go away and give her some breathing space. Of course, there were a few other male students flocking around her, vying for that special place in her heart. Although she had her reasons why none of her admirers were perfect for her, she reveled in their attention and was not ready to give all that up now.
Her friend accused her of being too picky. ‘What’s not to care for?’ Simi had argued when Imade voiced her concerns to her. ‘What girl in her right senses wouldn’t want a handsome, promising doctor-to-be like Taye on their arm? You better catch him while he’s still available.’
Simi was the perfect example of what one could term peer pressure. Imade had spent a lot of effort arguing the matter with her nosy but well meaning friend.
‘I just want you to enjoy what Dokun and I have,’ Simi explained.
‘And I will, all in good time,’ Imade had always replied. ‘To each lady, her own way.’
But now, watching Taye’s retreating form as he exited the library, she couldn’t help giving her friend’s constant urgings some serious thought. She was in her final year and would soon be going out into the real world; maybe it was time to give Taye a chance after all. She had been told that the so called real world did not offer as robust a pool of suitors as the campus setting did. Taye seemed to be the best of her bunch of admirers with his sweet, endearing nature. Somewhere within her, there had to be a flicker of attraction towards him, but she would have to dig really deep to find it. She sighed. Simi just didn’t understand her. Nobody did. With a shrug, she sank her head back into her books and tried to concentrate on her project.
By early evening, almost everyone was taking a break from studying. The ladies played host to the numerous male students who trooped into the female hostel to visit old friends or make new ones. In one corner of the crowded little room, Simi and Dokun laughed and whispered to each other, lost in their own world. Imade too was kept busy entertaining two male guests.
Taye arrived as promised, hoping for another attempt to court his dream girl, but he barely even found a place to sit. He looked around the room, unsure of what to do. Aside from a quick nod in his direction, Imade didn’t seem to notice his presence. Feeling awkward, he moved over to chat with Dokun and Simi. He knew he was intruding on their time alone, but it was either that or he would have to leave. After fifteen minutes of small talk with the love struck couple, Taye glanced back towards Imade’s corner. His rivals sat firmly on the edge of her bed, showing no signs of budging. Realizing he wouldn’t be able to speak with her that evening, he got up and announced his departure. His host thanked him for coming and apologized that she wouldn’t be able to see him off.
‘So this is it! I am finally through!’
‘Yes you are.’ Taye replied. He stared at Imade intently. ‘Will I ever see you again?’
She laughed. ‘You make it sound like I’m going to the moon. We’ll keep in touch won’t we?’
It was after graduation. The call-up letters for the National Youth Service Corps were out. Imade had been posted to Port-Harcourt and was leaving the next day. Taye still had a year to go at the medical school. With the distance between him and Imade getting farther, he wanted to know if they had a future together - if perhaps she had changed her mind about him. They already had a solid friendship and a long distance relationship would work, if they were both willing. He was definitely willing, but she wasn’t making any commitments. He couldn’t hide his disappointment as he tried one more time, to tell how he felt about her. Imade, on her part, was glad to go. The one year absence from family and friends would be good for her. She could sort out how she really felt, without pressure from Taye, Simi or anyone else.
‘I need space,’ she told him. ‘I’m going to use this period to think about my life and my future.’
‘Should I wait for you?’ he asked.
‘I can’t promise anything. I may get a job offer at Port Harcourt and decide to stay on permanently and even if I don’t, you know I have been thinking of going overseas to further my studies.’
He nodded. ‘If that’s what makes you happy.’
‘Goodbye Taye.’ she said, feeling restless and eager to be on her way. She gave him a quick, casual hug and hurried back into her room, shutting the door without a backward glance. Taye stood outside for a minute, breathing in the cool evening breeze. Then with his arms folded, he turned and headed back to his own quarters.