He is 64. Tall, dark, and handsome. A retired banker. A divorcee. His children live abroad, and he’s looking for a serious relationship.
In the few months I have known Emeka, the morning doesn’t start with a coffee. It starts with listening to a voice note that pops up on my WhatsApp. I am uncertain if he records the beautiful wake-up messages before going to bed at night or if he simply wakes up early to send them to me. I don’t care. I like them. They reawakened a feeling in my body that died with my husband 16 years ago. Emeka’s croaky voice is enough to brighten the morning before the sun prowls out of the clouds.
There are a few reasons I chose to go on a date with Emeka, even though he didn’t tick all the boxes I set on the dating app. My search was between 55 and 60-year-olds. Emeka was 64. Tall, dark, and handsome seemed like an extract he copied from the notes I posted about my preference on the dating app. But I couldn’t be sure since we both decided not to share photographs before we met in person. It was the best way to prevent disappointment. I am 53, he is 64, and surely, we could do away with the disappointment that comes with ageing.
I informed my twin sons, Tade and Tega, about my planned date with Emeka a week before we met. They selected the dress I would wear, called in a make-up artist, and set up a tracker in my bag in case Emeka was a kidnapper. The dating app was Tade’s idea, Tega wrote the notes about my preference on the app, and they both gave the rules to follow: no sharing of personal family stories, no sending of money, no sharing of nudes, and no secret physical meeting unless they were involved.
Tade and Tega were three when their father died. They barely knew him or remember any detail about him. But they know about their father’s brothers who came to evict us from my husband’s house after his death. They know about their father’s properties that his brothers claimed. And they have also known how closed my heart was to remarrying.
I agreed to the date with Emeka because he is Igbo and educated and shares a worldview similar to mine. He calls me Obim. He made it easy to love again and made me feel special in his heart. He suggested a quiet restaurant at Agodi Gardens. Tade and Tega have been there a few times, and so I agreed.
The boys and I arrived there earlier than I agreed with Emeka. I told them I wanted to see what the place looked like before he arrived. Tade got the tickets, Tega pulled the mats and other items from the car, and then, one after the other, like a cookie on the assembly line, we entered through an iron-cast turnstile.
If I could describe Agodi Gardens, I would start with the smell. The aroma of grilled meat from the restaurant close to the gate, the smell of the donkeys strolling along the pedestrian passageway that led to a swimming pool on the hill, and the smell of the grass, the forest, the animals, and other things of nature that went beyond what my eyes could catch. We crossed the small bridge over the narrow stream, passed people sitting on the grass a few metres from each other, and found the best place to spread our mat.
“Nobody would think a place like this exists in this quiet neighbourhood,” I said, looking around, impressed. A horse guide was helping a couple climb atop his horse near the stream.
“Says someone who refuses to go out,” Tega teased and made a funny face. He looked just like his father and had his humour.
“The zoo is just behind this forest.” Tade pointed to a narrow pathway behind us. A man carrying his daughter was moving towards the road. I thought he would stop at the edge of the forest, but he did not. Instead, he moved along the path, one step at a time, until the forest took him in its embrace.
“If this bush is as high as this, I wonder what the animals there look like,” I said.
“You don’t want to know, Mummy. They look hungry,” Tade replied.
My phone beeped. A message from Emeka: Hello. I just arrived at the place.
“He is here,” I announced to the boys.
“That’s early. Man’s up to something,” Tega teased again.
“Tega!” Tade quipped and rolled his eyes at him.
“You boys can look around. I won’t stay long.”
“Remember the rules, Mummy. Don’t be carried away. You have two grown-up boys here,” Tega said loudly, and people around turned to look at him.
As I walked towards the restaurant, I felt the need to straighten something in my body, to make myself appeal to Emeka’s desire, to be what he has in mind as his perfect woman. I felt like a girl waiting anxiously to please a man. I felt young again.
When I saw a man with thick eyeglasses typing something on his phone at a reserved table, I knew it was Emeka. There weren’t many people around to have mistaken him for someone else.
“Are you waiting for someone?” I asked, standing beside his chair.
He looked up at me and said, “Oh, Busola. You are here.” He dropped his phone and hugged me, and pulled back and hugged me again. “Please sit.”
“You didn’t mention the eye-glasses,” I said, smiling at him. “You must have counted too much money at the bank before retirement.”
He laughed. “I assumed you wouldn’t mind. Do you like this place? It is quiet, and I like it.”
I didn’t see tall, dark, and handsome. I saw strands of grey hair scattered on his head. I saw his pupils behind his thick lenses darting in opposite directions. But he seemed like a good man. The aura around him oozed age-old knowledge. I pondered what he was seeing in me. I wondered if he saw beneath the makeover heavy eye bags, a wrinkled neck, and ruffled hair under the wig that I felt would fly off my head. Perhaps there are many more unpleasant things to be discovered about our bodies. But surely, there are many more things to forgive and look away at this age.
“Yes. It is a good place,” I said. “My children are somewhere down there. They have been here before, so it was easy to locate.”
“Oh,” he said and raised his eyebrows. His spirit dampened as though the thought of my children offended him.
“Cocktail?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
He gestured to the waiter and placed the order.
“So you said you haven’t been in Ibadan for a long time?” he asked. His hand stretched out across the table.
“I moved in two years ago.”
“Well, that’s enough to be an indigene.” He laughed. “You came to Ibadan for work?”
“No. My children school here, and I wanted to stay close. But it feels like home too.”
“Where is home?”
“Lagos. But I might decide to stay back in Ibadan when they finish school. I don’t think I can survive Lagos traffic again. So, what about you? What have you been up to after retirement?”
“Nothing much.” He pulled back and rested his back on the chair. His sleeves were rolled back to his elbow, revealing muscled arms covered with hair. “Just some consulting jobs here and there.”
The waiter brought the cocktail and took our orders.
“Your children must be very special to you,” he said.
“All children are special.”
“Is there anything you are afraid they might do if you are not here with them in Ibadan?” He sipped his drink.
“No. They have never given me any worries. They have been everything to me since I lost my husband – their father. What about you? Do you visit your children abroad?”
“They are with their mother. We speak once in a while. They think I am the reason our family couldn’t get along.”
“No. Of course not. It is what their mother has put in their heads. I don’t blame them. They will grow up and see things for themselves in the future. Enough about our children. Today is about us. I am interested in knowing you.”
Emeka was charming and inquisitive. All through the meal, he asked everything and anything he could imagine and managed to deflect the conversation to something else once it veered into the subject of my children or his. He was interested in me and not my children. He was eager to build our relationship as if my children did not exist. He had a plan for his life with me that didn’t include my children.
He gave the waiter a good tip after the meal and asked that we look around.
“The government still has a lot to do to make this place better.” He held my hand, guided me down the stairs, and held on to it as we walked on the pathway to the riverside. A group of young schoolchildren lined up at the riverbank to take turns riding on the inflatable boat on the river. We stood there and watched the children leap with excitement as they hopped on and off the canoes. They reminded me of Tade and Tega when they were younger and easily excited about things.
“We should check some other side,” Emeka said. Perhaps, the children didn’t appeal to him. We strolled past the restaurant and ended up on the wooden bridge above the stream. Tadpoles and goldfish were sprinting back and forth in the water as though marking their territory.
“Busola, you and I are not children, and we know what we both want. We have been talking for a few months, and I think we both like each other. I want to settle down. I don’t know what you have in mind.”
I wanted him too, wanted to be with someone, to have a family again, but something felt out of place. There seemed to be too much in Emeka’s life that needed to be resolved, so many rumpled paths that needed to be straightened. I looked past him and saw Tade and Tega pretending to move around as though they weren’t trailing behind me all day.
“Your boys, right?” He nodded towards Tade and Tega, his lips stretched into a tight-lipped smile. “You can’t settle down with them around you. You know that, right? They are 19 and old enough to live on their own. Think about what you want for yourself. They will grow up and marry and have their own families. I don’t think I am—”
“Enough, Emeka. I’m sorry you don’t have a good relationship with your children and their mother. And whatever they think about you, you can always settle it with them. But I have a solid relationship with my children and can’t give them up for this thing between us.”
“I should go now,” he said. His face had lost its glow, and he could not seem to undo the muscles that pulled down his jaw. “We should keep in touch.”
“Yes. We should.” We exchanged a brief hug. He didn’t look back as he walked towards the gate and left.
The boys came over to the bridge.
“How did it go, Mummy?” Tade asked.
“He couldn’t even wait for us to leave together,” Tega said.
“Let’s just say we have different priorities,” I said, wrapping my arms around their shoulders.
“So it didn’t work out, Mummy.” Tade had a pitiful look on his face. “I am sorry.”
“Don’t worry Mum,” Tega said, “A responsible man will come and sweep you off your feet. I don’t even like the Emeka man sef. His head is like a curved banana.”
“Tega, there is nothing curved about the man’s head,” Tade said. We all laughed, and from somewhere in the forest, a lion roared.
The morning my world changed forever, the sun still came out and brightened the sky like nothing happened. My husband slumped in the bathroom and died. It was that simple. There was no premonition, no signs of impending doom, no cluster of dark clouds.
I saw him on the bathroom floor, his head on the bathtub, a pool of blood trailing the lines on the tiles. He stayed in intensive care for two weeks before he was pronounced dead. Nobody taught me how to deal with his death, how to grieve, how to deal with his family, how to take care of our children, and how to keep on living.
I called his parents in Ogbomoso. His mother picked up the call. “He is dead. Fagbemi is dead,” I said. His mother said nothing.
“Your son is dead, Mama!” I shouted over the phone.
“You have killed him,” she said, her voice calm and cold. “I told him not to marry you. He sucked from these breasts and disobeyed me and married you.” She slapped a hand on her breasts, and it echoed over the phone. “I told him you will bring doom to his life, just like you killed your mother when she gave birth to you,” she continued. “Do you even know who your father is? You are just a ghost. I told him there is no good that can come from you, but he did not listen. He married you without our—”
“Your son is dead, Mama,” I interrupted her. Perhaps she did not understand what I said: that her last son was dead, that the call was not to reach out to beg for her acceptance of our marriage, that the grandchildren she had refused to see would be all that she would remember of her son.
“Fagbemi is dead,” I said again.
“Go and eat his body!” she said and hung up.
I buried my husband beside our house in Port Harcourt. His company placed our children on scholarship and paid his gratuity into my account. On a quiet Saturday morning, two weeks after the burial, his mother and his brothers came out of the blue and demanded Fagbemi’s body and his properties.
“Where did you keep his body?” His mother dragged me from the door and landed a slap on my face.
“Mama?” Another slap found its way to my face.
“I buried him there,” I pointed to the grave beside the fence.
“Are these the bastards you call his children? You want to use them to hold on to his properties? Never!” One of his brothers went into the house and brought out my children. I was not sure which of his brothers it was. The slap from his mother still weighed heavily on me.
“Oya, oya come inside. Come and bring out my child from where she kept him. He must be buried properly.” His mother dashed to the gate and returned with four hefty men carrying diggers and shovels to dig up her son’s grave.
The world seemed to have stopped, and I could only see things like they were far from me, formed into a permutation that only I could not understand. Fagbemi’s sudden death, the preparation for the burial all alone, and the closure of my previous life had been too much weight to carry. But the custodians of the universe were not done. They led his mother and brothers to dig up his grave. The hefty men seemed used to the job. They dug fast, throwing their diggers onto the grave like they were unearthing a treasure. I picked up my children and ran until I was far from home.
He is 66. Once a minister. Two failed marriages. His children are all over the world, and he is lonely. He wants to get married and put his past behind him. People call him Honourable.
When Honourable told me a few months into our relationship that there was a past he wanted to put behind him and start a new life, I believed that we were a perfect match. We could start a life together. The story of his failed marriage and the betrayal from his ex-wives sounded too ominous. It excused him of all blame. But I didn’t care. He was a good man to me, and that was all that mattered.
After a few secret dates with him without telling Tega and Tade, I yielded to his request to visit him in Abuja. But I had to inform my children. I had kept them in the dark for too long.
I found the perfect time, a movie night, the three of us sitting around in the living room, a big bowl of popcorn on the centre table.
“So there is this man I have been seeing for some time,” I started.
“What?” Tade picked up the remote and paused the movie.
“Don’t pretend you didn’t know, Tade,” Tega scoffed. “We were waiting to see if you were going to tell us.”
“What?” I was taken aback.
“Now who is surprised?” Tega sneered.
“Mummy, you didn’t have to keep it away from us for that long. We want to be happy for you, but you denied us that privilege.”
I sighed, rubbed my hand on my head, and laughed. “What else do you boys know?”
“That you have also had several secret dates with this special man in your life,” Tega said.
“Not several. Just three.” I pulled them closer to me, their heads resting on my chest. “I didn’t want to disappoint the two of you again. I wanted to be sure he was the right person. He wants me to visit him in Abuja. I think this is the right one. I’ll just be gone for a week. I’ll leave on Monday and return during the weekend.”
“I’ll keep the tracker in your luggage just in case,” Tega mumbled and touched my face.
The honest, calm, and vulnerable man I knew in Ibadan was no longer there in Abuja. Honourable’s big tummy and bald head were there for the world to see, but he was a different man in his territory. He was good and kind to me, but it was as far as his niceness could go.
A few days after I arrived, a police van rushed into the compound. His money was missing. All his domestic workers were stripped to their underwear, lined up in his compound, and their belongings ransacked in plain sight. I watched in horror. I took him inside to plead on their behalf, but he refused, his eyes blinded by rage.
“I have been too lenient with them. They are taking advantage of my niceness.” His chest was heaving. I had been around only a few days, but long enough to understand that niceness was not a word in his vocabulary.
He went back outside and threatened them again. He went into his car, brought out his carjacker, and gave it to one of the policemen. “Use this to break their heads if they refuse to speak. You people think I am playing.”
His phone began to ring, and he fumbled for it in his pocket.
“Tell them I am busy.” He gave the phone to his personal assistant, who had been standing beside him all the while.
The young man went into the house to pick up the call and came back to announce that the missing money was in the drawer in the office.
Honourable seemed more offended than relieved by the news.
“I’ll send something to you boys later,” he said, waving off the policemen.
“Thank you, sir! Thank you, sir!” they all echoed as they entered their van and left.
The staff waited behind, covering their half-naked bodies with their hands and pleading to be forgiven for an offence they did not commit.
“I am watching you all,” he said, pointing at them, and stormed off.
That night, as he rolled himself into the bed, he asked that I marry him. He seemed convinced by his own words.
“We are compatible,” he said. “We will complement each other. You are like water, and I am like fire. We are a good match. I have plans, very good plans for you and your children.”
If there was one thing I agreed with him on, it was his own revelation of his identity. He was fire; he could burn people and things. He was fire, and I needed to stay away from him.
I didn’t wait until the weekend to return to Ibadan. He told the driver to drop me off at the airport and asked that I come with my children the next time I visited him in Abuja. As the plane lifted into the air, into the dark cloud that had gathered that evening, I could not have been happier that my children did not get to meet him.
He is unknown. His identity is kept secret. His child is one of Tade and Tega’s close friends. Our children matched us for a blind date.
It didn’t have to take two failed relationships to conclude that getting a soul mate on dating apps was a bad idea. I deleted my account on the dating app and convinced Tade and Tega that the dating app business was a bad idea. They were supportive.
One Friday evening, I came home to a bouquet of fresh flowers and a cake on the dining table: a surprise birthday gift from my children. I had been gone for only a few hours, but they had managed to decorate the house. Colourful LED lights were taped on the wall, and balloons hung from the ceiling.
“Happy birthday, Mummy! Happy Birthday!” The echoes of their voices felt like cold water on my chest.
Tade lit the candles on the cake, Tega held the flowers, and I said the wishes.
“Thank you,” I said, holding their heads to my chest.
“Don’t cry, Mummy,” Tade said. I didn’t know I was.
“You boys still remember.” I wiped the tears that had gathered on my face.
“You really think we will forget?” Tega smirked; he never missed the chance to be as mischievous as his father. “Now, we have a surprise for you.”
“A surprise? Should I close my eyes?” I said.
“Open your eyes, Mummy. Not that kind of surprise,” Tade said. He had a big smile on his face.
“Okay, I’m listening,” I said, looking at them on either side of me. Their eyes were unreadable.
Tega took the flowers from me and dropped them on the table. “Okay. There is somebody we want you to meet.”
“Who is this person?” I asked.
“We can’t tell you,” Tade said. “You will have to meet the person yourself. He is waiting to see you right now, and you shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
“What are you boys talking about?”
“You will soon understand.” Tega pulled my hands towards the room. “We have picked some clothes on the bed. Just get dressed, and let us go.”
“Allow yourself to enjoy the evening, Mummy. Enjoy the surprise,” Tade said.
He was right, and I listened. But the butterflies in my stomach refused to be quelled. Tega drove the car; Tade sat beside me in the back seat and held my hand. I was looking out through the window into the sea of people and cars and motorcycles, all jostling for space at the tiny junction of Bodija market. It was like I had lived it before, this moment of joy and uncertainty and longing. It all felt familiar.
Tega stopped the car in front of the quiet lounge at New Bodija. One of the security men came to open my door. He helped me out of the car and asked that I follow him. Tade and Tega nodded.
I followed the man. I felt like a weightless balloon, propelled by the forces of light and wind and blown into a world that seemed too good to be real. Perhaps it wasn’t; all it would take to shrink me back into reality was a needle to prick the balloon.
The security man led me to a table where a young boy and a man sprang up as soon as they saw me coming. The young boy was Tomisin, Tade and Tega’s closest friend.
“Good evening, Ma’am,” Tomisin said as he came over to hug me. “And Happy birthday to you. I’ll just go and meet Tade and Tega.”
Tomisin left me with his father, who was dressed in a suit and bow tie.
“I am Tomiwa. Tomisin’s father. Please, sit.” He placed his hand on his chest and gestured towards the seat.
He was a gentleman, cultured, an old soul. He smiled too often, and the dimple on his left cheek sank deeper than the other.
“How do you feel about our children setting us up for a date?” he said and smiled again. “Tomisin would not stop talking about a beautiful and kind woman I needed to see. Now I am sitting close to this woman, and she is more than my son could describe.”
The butterflies in my stomach had dissolved, and in their place, a crude kind of feeling blossomed. I couldn’t place it as any one thing. It was love, fear, hope, admiration, luck, many things at once, all bouncing against the wall of my stomach and unable to mould themselves into a tangible form.
“My children said I needed to meet with you as my birthday surprise,” I said. “Can you imagine that?”
He burst into laughter. I didn’t think what I said was funny, but his laughter made me laugh.
In the months that followed our blind date, I would go to bed laughing at what he said to me over the phone or what I had said that he thought was funny. He asked that I make him a priority, second only to my children, and he wouldn’t mind. But he meant more to me than he imagined.
Tomiwa’s company was hosting a dinner to celebrate a new partnership, and he wanted me to attend with him. A very important partnership, he mentioned, as though making an impassioned case. But he didn’t have to try hard to convince me. “I will be introducing you to some of my close friends,” he added.
When I walked out to meet him at my door on the evening of the party, his astonished eyes looked at me from head to toe, just like it was done in romantic movies. But this was not a movie. His was the real-life adornment of a man whose eyes suggested a desire deeper than want.
“You look gorgeous,’’ he said, holding out his hand to guide me into the car.
His compliment melted away the worries I had about the black sequin dress. I had thought the slit was cut too high above my knee and the cleavage visible behind the V-shaped neck impolite for my age. He took the shawl away from my shoulder, hung it on the seat headrest, and walked hastily over to the driver’s seat.
“All set?” He glanced at his wristwatch as he ignited the car.
His son and my children waved at us as he turned the car around.
“Don’t sleep off, you all. We will be back soon.” I waved back at them.
“Sleep off?” he chuckled. “That is if they sleep at all. Tomisin must have inducted them into his PS game cult.”
“Sometimes the boys stay up all night playing that thing. I wonder how they never get tired.”
“Better than alcohol and cigarettes?”
“Well, you can’t excuse a lesser evil because they aren’t doing something worse.”
“Evil?” he said and laughed. “You worry too much. They are young. Let them have some fun, make some mistakes, and learn from them.”
“Some mistakes can be costly.”
“Like playing video games?”
‘Stop it, Tomiwa.” I laughed and placed my hand on his thigh. “You know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean,” he said, glanced at me, and smiled. I couldn’t see his dimple in the dark interior of the car. He held my hand and squeezed it softly.
The traffic at Songo was moving slowly. Cars inched forward then rolled to a stop, their brake lights glinting on the windscreens behind.
“I thought I was going to wait till after the party to tell you this…” He paused and looked at me.
“I think I am going to be made a partner at the company. Someone from the board tipped me.”
“Really? I am so happy for you!”
“I should thank you. The advice you gave me worked. It helped me secure a partnership with the company. I wouldn’t have paid attention to pitching the deal to the company the way you suggested. I owe you, and I am grateful.”
It felt like I was listening to him speak about somebody else. I had only suggested that he humanize his ideas and not rely on statistics and growth potential alone. I was sure it didn’t matter much in convincing the company to agree to the partnership. But it felt good that he cared to share his business life with me and listened to me. It made me feel important and useful to him beyond a romantic relationship.
“You are not saying anything?” He squeezed my hand, nudging me back to life.
“I didn’t do much,” I said.
The traffic eased, and cars hurried to outmanoeuvre one another before things ground to a halt again. Suddenly, a car rammed into our vehicle from the side. It was a small Golf with a body like mangled metal. The driver hurried out of his vehicle and threw himself on the ground.
Tomiwa and I stood beside the dent in the car, watching the man’s theatrical performance as other vehicles honked loudly and moved past us.
“Oga, please, na my wife wey dey labour I dey carry go hospital. I no get money, abeg. Madam, abeg help me beg Oga.” The man knelt on the road and clasped his hands on his head.
It took the groaning of a woman coming out of the Golf for Tomiwa and I to understand what the man was saying.
I looked at Tomiwa and said, “There is a woman in labour in his car.”
“Just take your car and drive her to the hospital alive.” Tomiwa gestured for him to drive off.
Back in the car, Tomiwa turned to me and said, “He could just have told us his wife was in labour. He didn’t need all that drama.”
For a long time afterwards, when Tomiwa became a partner and travelled abroad for training at his company’s headquarters, my memory of the night was this: arriving to the dinner a little late, meeting all of Tomiwa’s close friends, who smiled and talked about business and family and invited me to their parties, and driving back home in the car beside Tomiwa, who, of all things to talk about, chose to worry about the Golf driver and his pregnant wife.
Our love story wasn’t supposed to make sense. He didn’t fit into the box I wanted my man to be. He was 49, younger than I was, a single father, and deeply rooted in his firm beliefs. But there was an assuredness that came with being with him that I could not explain. Was it about those rough days when I demanded some space, knowing he would come around whenever I wanted him back? Or was it the way he treated people as if his little, kind gesture to someone would heal the world of misery? I did not completely make sense of it, but I knew what it felt like. It was like being content in a cosy bed on a drizzling night with the opening page of a fairy tale appearing under a shimmering light bulb. It was a story without the promise of a perfect, trouble-free life, but with the certainty of a helping hand and an enjoyable ever after.
On the night I celebrated my children’s completion of their third-year exams at the university, almost a year into our relationship, he joined the dinner hosted at my house. He had been out of the country for a few weeks, and his son stayed over with my children through the time. It wasn’t until I saw him arrive – dressed in a casual evening dress, his beard a little overgrown and his hands bearing flowers – that I realised how earnestly I wanted him for me. We all sat around the dining table, holding hands in a small circle while he blessed the food.
Adewale Olasupo is a Nigerian writer who grew up in Ibadan. He graduated with a BA in English from the University of Abuja. From childhood, he has been an avid watcher of the world and believes storytelling is a powerful tool to capture the true sense of our existence. When he is not writing, he volunteers his time to a charitable cause that seeks to make the world a better place.