Simi hurried into town, she was running late. Her grandmother’s house was not really inside Jos town, it was at the outskirts of Bukuru township, which was about thirty minutes’ drive from the main town. She had arranged to meet with Marianne. That was someone else she hadn’t seen or been in contact with for five years. She felt a pang of regret at that. They’d met in nursery school and had been best friends since.
Marianne had begged her to cry when she’d lost her parents and her baby brother just after she’d written her WAEC exams, but she’d been dry eyed then, her devastation too deep for tears. And later when Lucas had broken her heart, Marianne had been there too, begging her to stop crying. She’d wept for two days straight and when she came up for air, something fundamental inside Simi had changed.
As she turned into Ahmadu Bello way, she quickly scanned for a parking spot. Just as she drove past the GT Bank building, she saw a car pull out in front of her and quickly drove into the spot. She smiled at her luck, getting a parking spot on Ahmadu Bello Way was almost impossible. She was just a few doors away from Afri’one café, where she was meeting up with Marianne. It used to be their favourite hangout place.
Simi turned off the engine and picked up her handbag. She fished inside for her phone, to see if there were any missed calls. Lucas had sent another WhatsApp message. Since that first time two nights ago, they’d been communicating through WhatsApp. Mostly he asked about Lara and she gave him updates, including pictures and short videos.
AT A BORED MEETING. The message read.
Did he mean board meeting? She wondered with a frown and quickly typed. YOU MEAN BOARD MEETING?
His reply was immediate. IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE, BUT I’M BORED.
She shook her head at his attempt to be cute. It wasn’t working. THEY PAY YOU BIG CASH TO BE BORED. SUCK IT UP!
She made to drop the phone inside her handbag when it beeped again. With an impatient sigh, she tapped the screen and read his message.
OUCH. SO HARSH.
She dropped the phone into her bag without bothering to reply. She was already late for the meetup. She jumped out and pressed the auto lock. Then hurried into the café and looked at the table at the farthest corner of the café. Sure enough, there was a light skinned woman sitting on the table. She had her head down, focused on the tablet in her hands so she did not notice the admiring glances thrown her way. Simi paused and took a moment to really look at her friend. She hadn’t changed much, well if anything she looked even more beautiful. She had added some weight but it was so little it didn’t really count. There was something a bit different about her, but Simi could not put her hands on it.
Just then, the other woman looked up and caught sight of Simi. Her eyes sparkled with excitement as she jumped up. They grinned at each other for a few seconds and in that moment, it was like they were back in university. Simi rushed to her friend and they held each other in a tight hug.
“Oh my God! I can’t believe this is you.” Marianne said when they stepped back from the hug.
“Wow, Mimi, you look amazing!” Simi took in the hair that flowed down past her friend’s shoulder to her back to the glow in her eyes. Mimi had on a black fitted cashmere sweater on a long tan coloured skirt and black boots. Her nails were perfectly manicured and she looked like a style icon.
Mimi laughed as they took their seats. “You’ve spruced up yourself,” she said with a nod at Simi’s outfit. They both laughed at that.
Simi was a tomboy, had always been, but she’d found a way to make it work. So she had on a graphic tee shirt on a pair of jeans. The tee shirt read ‘J-Town Chic’ and the jeans was expertly ripped and tucked into a pair of grey knee-high boots, she knew didn’t look too bad. Most importantly, it was in line with her style philosophy: comfort first.
“God I’ve missed this place,” Simi said looking around. “Remember when we would take a drop all the way from Permanent site just to come and drink coffee here?”
“All we could afford then was a pot of coffee between us, but we felt so cool and sophisticated then,” Mimi said with a smile.
Just then the waiter came to take their orders. “It’s really nice to see you ladies. It’s been a while.”
They both looked up and exclaimed at the same time, “Mr. Haruna!”
“I didn’t know you were still here. How are things?” Mimi asked him.
The man was really dark in complexion and looked well fed. When he smiled, his cheeks reached up to his eyes. But those eyes were so kind that the girls had been drawn to him when they’d first started coming to Afrióne.
He smiled now, his eyes lighting up, “Oh things are really fine. Where have you all been?”
“I was working in Port Harcourt,” Simi said.
“And I just got back from the UK.” Mimi replied.
Simi hadn’t known that but she did not let her surprise show on her face. “Is Mrs. Ajao still here?” Simi asked referring to the lady who had manned the cash register.
Mr. Haruna shook his head sadly, “Her husband passed on and she went back to the West with her children.”
“Oh that’s so sad,” Mimi’s expressive eyes immediately flooded with sympathy.
“Yes. So what can I get for you ladies today? We now have a special coffee, grown right here in Plateau state.” He said beaming with pride.
“Wow, that’s awesome!” Simi said, surprised and glad to hear that there was coffee being grown in Nigeria.
Mr. Haruna took their orders and left.
“So how have you been, Mimi?” Simi asked facing her friend.
Mimi stretched out her left hand, “Well, first of all, I got married and I have a two-year old daughter.”
Simi froze. She stared at the matching set of wedding and engagement rings on Marianne’s finger and felt cold.
“When? How did I not know about this?” She looked up at her friend and saw in Marianne’s eyes, hurt and grief similar to the one she was feeling.
“Four years ago. It happened in the UK. And I wanted to tell you, but I couldn’t reach you.” She shook her head in confusion, “You just totally blacked us out. On my wedding day, I cried when I realized you were not going to be there with me. It was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, but my best friend was not there and wasn’t even speaking to me.”
Mimi’s words pierced through Simi’s heart and drew blood. When she’d left Jos five years ago, all she’d wanted was to forget the pain and humiliation, the heartbreak. She hadn’t spared a thought for the people she’d left behind. People who had loved her. For the first time, she saw her actions as incredibly selfish.
She reached out across the table and touched her friend’s hand, “My God, Mimi, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe how selfish I was.”
Mimi turned her hand and held on to Simi’s without breaking eye contact. “Yes, you were selfish,” she said, not unkindly, “But I understood. I don’t know how I would have survived what happened.” She gave Simi a searching look, “How are you though?”
Simi shrugged, “I guess I survived, barely. I’m not sure some things are working though, like my heart.” It was a fear she had never admitted even to herself. She had tried, but she just couldn’t fall in love anymore. It was like the part of her heart that could fall in love had been permanently damaged.
Mimi withdrew her hand and leaned back with a knowing smile.
“What’s that smile about?” Simi asked.
Just then a different waiter brought their orders. They thanked him and waited for him to leave. Alone once more, Simi gave the other woman a pointed stare. “Oya, speak up!”
Mimi laughed, “Sweetheart, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you’ve been factory fitted for just one man.”
Simi stared at her in horror, “If you’re saying what I think you’re saying ehn, then God forbid!”
Mimi just laughed harder. When she finally got herself together she leaned forward, “If e no be Panadol, e no fit be the same thing as Panadol,” she said repeating an ad that ran a few years back for the popular pain reliever, Panadol.
“I am not going that route with Lucas again,” she stated emphatically, “Not like he’s interested anyway. I think we’ve both moved past that.”
“Keep telling yourself that, honey.”
“Wait, what do you know?”
Mimi smirked, “I heard you guys met at Church.”
Simi groaned. What was it with Jos that everyone was into everyone else’s business? “So? We met, we said hi and we went in opposite directions. No big deal.” She stirred in sugar and milk into her coffee and took a sip. It was different, but it was definitely Arabica. She brought the teacup to her mouth for another sip when Mimi spoke.
“That’s not what I heard. They said the heat you two generated could cook enough burukutu for an entire village.” Mimi drank her coffee black.
Simi almost choked on her coffee. Burukutu was the local alcoholic brew in the area and it took a lot of fire to cook enough for a village.
“Seriously?” She gasped, then began to laugh. It wasn’t long before Mimi joined her. Just then her phone beeped. Simi reached for her phone and saw that it was another message from Lucas.
I DREAMT ABOUT YOU. ABOUT US.
She stared at the words and felt light butterflies in her tummy, which was odd. She did not want to be affected by his words, but they did affect her.
“What’s up?” Mimi asked when Simi just kept looking at her phone.
Simi looked up then, “It’s a message from Lucas.” She gave the phone to her friend.
Mimi read it and handed the phone back. She picked up her cup and drained the coffee before setting it back on the table. Then she looked at Simi with one eyebrow raised, “Remember darling, if e no be Panadol…” She let the rest of her words trail off, but her meaning was clear.
Simi shook her head in rejection of what she said, but it was without heat. She expelled her breath in a sigh and tapped her phone.
THERE IS NO ‘US’.
Stop by next week for chapter 8. Can’t wait? Get Simi’s Return on your kindle.