“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these; “it might have been”. Maud Muller- John Greenleaf Whittier (1856)
“I swear I could slap you right now, Bayo. I’m telling you about something really serious and it seems like a joke to you, eh?” Ada said, laughing.
I love her laugh, this one. There is something about it…her laughter and then the way her lips curved and formed into the most enchanting smile I have ever seen whenever she decides to bestow us with that smile.
Ada, my friend, my companion my confidante. Looking back, I am more than grateful to whatever spirits that reside in the heavens for bringing her my way. Two years of this friendship and I wake up every day wondering how those two years would have been without her in my life.
To be honest, I probably… scratch that… most definitely would not have felt a difference. I wouldn’t have known her so there would be no way to know what I would have been missing out on. Knowing her, however, I can see what it might have been and I am more than glad.
“Nne, ma binu. Sho gbo? Omo ti adiye ba ku ata la nlo.” I say to her.
“See why I don’t like you? I have told you countless times not to speak Yoruba to me. ”
“It beats me that after three years in Ibadan you still don’t understand bits and pieces of Yoruba. How can? You suppose dey cover your face.”
“Whatever. Just stop.”
“O wa lara e.” She rolls those come-and-do-eyes at me and I could swear my heart stopped. This girl would be the end of me. “All I said just means, ‘no vex. You’re the child that when the fowl dies, we grind pepper for. E dey your body.”
“Mtcheww. People would see you in a formal setting and think no one else can speak English. That was a terrible attempt at interpreting what you said in Yoruba.”
“See I can’t kill myself. This is home. I can speak whatever English elsewhere.”
“Na you sabi. But really…do you see me going back to school? I’m too old for that shit. Medicine for that matter o.”
“Oh please. You’re just 23.”
“23 is old enough to be free from your father’s clutches.” She says and I can feel her pain. My heart cries the way hers are crying…is weary the way hers are…I can see the tears welling up in her eyes. The signature swallow when she is about to cry but doesn’t want to…much like she is swallowing the tears.
“Then stay.” I urge. I can’t bring myself to tell her what I actually want to. Stay because I have somehow fallen in love with you. Stay because I know now that I can’t stand being away from you. Stay because I want to be more than just your ‘really good friend’.
None of those words leave my lips. I can’t make them. How can I when I don’t know for a fact that she feels the same way. How can I when I risk losing our friendship because I crossed the line. How? It is hard to ask a girl you have become so close to out. You are afraid of a lot…especially messing it all up.
I open my mouth and shut it again. She speaks in my stead. “I have to get going now. I have to leave very early tomorroww and I haven’t even packed.” She said and got off the side of the low fence she was sitting.
“Do you have to?”
“You talk as though you don’t know.”
It hits me then. This is it. She is actually leaving. For good. Leaving everything behind…living the life her father had planned out for her. And I have no place in that life.
See, this one’s destiny had already been made. She had derailed a bit but her father was drawing her back to The Plan. The Plan was simple; grow up, go to medical school, practice medicine and the new inclusion in the plan- marry that son of Chief Osondu that works with that big oil company.
Who is she to refuse? Who am I, a hustling Yoruba boy, to tell her to do otherwise?
So as she gets off the fence I do too. As she crosses to the other side of the road to her car, I do too. I hold her hands until we both cannot take it any more.
“I’ll call you before you leave tomorrow.” I say to her.
“I’ll call you when I get to Abuja. Don’t worry, we’ll talk every day. It would be as though I never left. You haven’t lost your best friend yet. Trust me you and I are a forever something.” she said with a sad smile. “Now go back. I want the last memory I have of you to be you sitting on that spot of ours smiling back at me.”
I go back… and sit…and smile.
She doesn’t leave…she stays…and watches me.
I decide there and then. I can’t let this one go. I am not strong enough to tell the tale of the one that got away. I need to think this through. It is better to be sure she doesn’t feel the same than wonder if she did as I watch her say ‘I do’ to that other man her father endorsed.
My watch ticks…1…2… I have to tell her.
3…4…I get off and see she’s getting out of the car and walking…crying and walking towards me.
- I hear it before I see it.
The sound of metal connecting with bone. The half-man, half-animal cry of pain. The screeching of tires against the tarred floor and the revving of the car. He came from nowhere and now he is nowhere. The shouts of “Ha! Ikunle abiyamo o,” from those who saw it happen
My Ada is crumpled on the floor, gasping for air. She is crying still.
I rush to her and try to get her of the floor. My hands are wet and red with her blood. My eyes are wet with tears. Why did she come back? Why didn’t I try to stop her from leaving in the first place? Why didn’t I decide five seconds earlier?
“I love you” were her last words to me. Her last words to anyone. My Ada left me that day. She left me for good.
She said it would be as though she never left. She said I hadn’t lost my best friend….yet.
Yet, she said.
But I lost her. I lost her on the same day she promised we would be forever.