I prefer writing long form, novels and novellas are more my forte, but recently, the writing spring has been coming in bursts and trickles and when this story of a pregnant woman in need of a friend came to me, I was able to finish it in a few thousand words. I sent it to BN and they liked it and published it. However, they preferred a shorter version, so those who read it there, read the summary or the concluding part. The original title was Best Friends Forever, and below is how it all began...
Though I get by, I’m not very good at making friends. In university, I only had two close friends. My girlfriend, Nkechi, left the country after her youth service and we lost contact. As the years went by, I remained close to Chudi, and after we had settled into our jobs, he ended up becoming my husband. Chudi was the gregarious one, and I was the quiet one. We complimented each other. He made the friends and I cooked when they came over. Because of him, I never lacked company, women I could natter with when I needed to, and men to debate politics and football with. I liked that my husband remained my true friend, but sometimes I missed having a close female confidant.
Several months after we had our first child, we moved into a new apartment and somehow I drifted away from the few single friends I had. Chudi’s bachelor buddies also stayed away. Around the same time, one of his colleagues at the office moved in not far from us. He'd recently gotten married and he and his wife needed the space provided by the new apartment block. Tade did not have a car and often walked over so he could ride to work with Chudi in the mornings. At first he was reserved, but with time we relaxed around each other and would talk as I waited for them to leave before locking up and taking my son to daycare on my way to work.
I met his wife for the first time during my son’s second birthday party. By then her husband Tade had become much closer to Chudi and they spent a lot of time together. However, he always came alone whenever he came around to our house, or to see any of our other friends, making excuses for his wife if it was a get together or a celebration of one thing or the other. The day of my son’s birthday, Bimbo – that was her name – showed up. She walked two paces behind her husband when they entered our flat, and once she sat down, she didn’t move from the spot even though all the other women fussed over the boy and me. I joked with Chudi that night after everyone had left that I had finally found someone even quieter than I was.
The second time I met her, I was in my dressing gown, with a wrapper round my chest. It was a Saturday and I had gone to get some ogi from Maami, the large woman who sold fresh wet corn starch and bean cakes just two apartment blocks from ours. My son had suddenly decided that pap was the only thing he would eat that morning, so off I went. Maami’s stall was in front of Tade and Bimbo’s building, but still I was surprised when I saw her waiting her turn to buy Maami’s delicious akara. The queue for that was long, but since I was only there for ogi, I could move ahead.
“Good morning,” I said to Bimbo as I passed her.
“Good morning,” she replied, but her eyes did not meet mine.
Something about her face made me stop and try to make conversation. I asked about her day and about Tade. She replied me well enough, in mumbles, and she did not ask anything in return. I bought my ogi after a loud teasing from Maami about how I had become a slave to my son’s caprices. She laughed as she boasted that her magic ogi, which was the talk of our entire area, would pacify him. When I got home, I told Chudi about the jokes, and also about Bimbo who had not cracked a smile even while all the other women and men were chuckling at my expense.
“I don’t think she likes me,” I concluded.
“I doubt that,” Chudi said, “you’ve only just met each other. I’ve spoken with her a few more times than you, she’s only quiet. You’ll see that if you get to know her better.”
At that point, my instinct was just to forget her and put the incident behind me. It was just that I felt a kindred spirit with her; I could understand what it was to be shy. But if she was pushing me away, what could I do?
Soon after that, Tade was promoted at their office and bought a car. To celebrate, he invited us over for drinks and a meal. It was my first time in their flat and I was wondering what kind of hostess Bimbo would be. It was a small gathering, just Chudi and I, and another couple. Their flat was smaller than ours, and I was struck by the simplicity of the living area.
Their parlor only had one two-seater couch and two armchairs, all covered in matching fabric. The only things that lightened up the room were the few pictures high on the cream-colored wall behind the large screen television. The centerpiece of the collection was a framed picture from their wedding day. Tade looked splendid in a blue suit and waistcoat and Bimbo stood next to him in a lovely lacy white gown. The smile that sparkled in her eyes and spread across her lips and cheeks turned her into a different person. I had to blink to be sure I was seeing clearly. The other pictures were also from the wedding, and she was smiling in all of them. There was one of Bimbo and the lady who must have been her chief bridesmaid, and their similar gap-toothed smiles made me think they were sisters. I hadn’t even realized Bimbo had a gap in her teeth.
As we all sat around the small dining table talking about work, the children, and politics, my eyes often went to Bimbo’s face. I felt uncomfortable sitting next to her; she barely added anything to the conversation, not even when I tried to talk to her directly. She either mumbled a reply, or whispered an excuse to escape to the kitchen. I knew it was over a year since they had gotten married and I wondered if it was lack of a child that was making her so withdrawn. Would Chudi know if they had fertility issues? I remembered some of my own anxiety in the first months of our marriage before I had found out I was pregnant. My heart again went out to her, and I wished she would open up to me so I could offer some kindness.
Tade laughed at something Chudi said and I studied him. His wife might be quiet in the extreme but while he was not loud by any means, he was a very humorous man, and would become garrulous after a few drinks. As Bimbo settled into her seat beside me again, her mask-like profile hiding all insight into her eyes, I worried that his drinking could be tearing them apart.
Later that night, Chudi assured me that Tade and Bimbo were OK; Tade was a good husband, and generous. He felt I should know better than to think the man was a drunk, as I had known him for nearly a year. I knew I should let it go, but I just couldn’t.
Earlier, Tade had mentioned that Bimbo was a fashion designer and seamstress, and after the dinner at their house, I decided to become her customer. The next time Tade came over, I asked for the address of her shop and some weeks later I took some Aso-ebi material to her for the dress I intended to wear to an upcoming wedding. I thought it would give me a chance to get to know her better, or at least, talk with her. When I walked into the shop, I was quite impressed. It was very neat, with mounds of Ankara, Aso-oke and other fabrics staked in a corner or hanging on the wall. One young man was ironing patterns on the tall, large table while two girls sat behind their manual sewing machines, rolling away. Bimbo had been working on a bigger machine but got up to greet me, pleasant if still aloof. She smiled as she handed over copies of Ovation and City People magazines. I smiled back and asked her to help me choose a style.
She showed me some finished designs hanging on the walls which she had designed and made, and we discussed sizes and adjustments. That was when I began to see the real Bimbo; she was still quiet but she gestured and flipped through pages. A small smile lit up her features one more time before I left. I was pleased with myself for taking the first step to know her.
Later I said to Chudi, “She’s a very good designer; I’m glad I went to her.”
“Do you still want to befriend her?” he asked.
I nodded in the darkness. He was surprised; it wasn’t like I didn’t have enough to occupy me. My son was in his terrible twos and I had just become pregnant again. He asked why I was so concerned about Bimbo, since I had a small circle of women who I would go to the cinema with when he looked after the children, or buy foodstuff in bulk to share with. I told him that though Bimbo tried to hide it, I saw the sad loneliness in her eyes and that she reminded me of a younger version of myself.
What I didn’t tell Chudi was that I was feeling a bit lonely too. Of adult company, that is. I had lost my job a few months before, and sometimes uncomfortable silences bloomed with my other friends, when we had nothing in common to talk about.
The next time Tade came around, my Aso-ebi had been completed, on time and to my satisfaction. I praised Bimbo’s work, saying that she now had a devoted customer and an evangelist of her business in me. He thanked me politely and said he was sure she would appreciate that. The truth was that in the course of Bimbo making the dress for me, I had visited her shop a couple of times. While she spoke easily on the designs she was making, she clammed up whenever I talked about my other friends or invited her to go out with us sometime.
So I asked Tade if she had any friends. He looked at me from the corner of his eyes.
“How many times did you visit her?” he asked.
“Didn’t she tell you?”
“Tell me what?” I asked.
He sighed. “I’ve never told you this either,” he said to Chudi who was looking on quietly. “Most new people we’ve met don’t ask, and Bimbo is the last person to raise the topic. I’d rather not talk about it either.”
“I’m sorry,” I put in, “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“No, no, it’s not your fault. I’ve been praying for it and I’m glad someone is finally taking an interest in Bimbo. I’ve done my best to be there for her since it happened.”
“What happened?” Chudi asked.
“Bimbo’s chief bridesmaid and best friend died in a car accident…”
“Oh no,” I breathed, my hand moving to cover my lips.
“She was taking us to the airport for our honeymoon trip.” Tade completed.
“Were you in the car too?” Chudi asked.
“It was the three of us. Funmilayo was driving.”
My mouth dropped open as my hand fell into my lap. In the silence, my heart thudded in my chest. This sounded like something that only happened in the movies. My gaze was fixed on the tears that clouded Tade’s eyes. When they spilled over, he began to speak. The wedding day had been the best day of their lives, and the reception had continued till midnight. They had been laughing on the way to the airport, tearing apart the events and people of the day before. And no, Funmilayo had not been drunk or hung over; a sleepy tanker driver slipped into their lane, ramming their car into the ditch beside the express way.
He was in the back seat and had escaped with just a fractured arm. Bimbo was in the passenger seat and had some internal bleeding, nothing too serious. Funmilayo had taken the brunt of the collision and died within hours of arriving at the hospital. Everyone had been shocked, and a massive pall had been cast over their relationship. Months after they’d both left the hospital and Funmilayo had been buried, Bimbo had remained inconsolable. She was finally beginning to come around, but it was still touch and go, some days were better than others.
Funmilayo had been Bimbo’s childhood friend. They had grown up closer than sisters, spending time in each other’s houses and going to the same schools, all through primary school to university. Only during their youth service had they been apart, but they had visited each other regularly, and resumed the friendship when they both returned to Lagos after the mandatory one year. They had looked alike, with the same dark skin and a gap between their teeth. People had sometimes asked if they were twins. I recalled the picture I had seen on their wall, of Bimbo and the woman, smiling and happy, and then Bimbo as she was now, and I began to cry too.
After Tade left, I confessed to Chudi that I didn’t know what to do next. My need for someone to pass the time with paled in the face of Bimbo’s travails. My schemes to befriend her suddenly seemed very foolish and childish. While my fears about her sadness had been confirmed, at the same time, I knew there was no way I could hope to replace her dead best friend.
“You don’t have to replace her, just be there for Bimbo.”
So over the next few months, I tried to get closer to her, and get her to talk to me. I did not tell her about our discussion with Tade or what he had revealed to us. I introduced some of the other women in our circle to her work, spent some of my free time in her shop, coaxed her to go fabric hunting with me and we went to Balogun Market a couple of times. Sometimes Bimbo would point and start to say something, a bright look in her eyes, and then it would fade away and she would keep silent.
I was in Bimbo’s shop one day when my stomach cramped, and cramped hard. It had been doing that for a few days but I had assumed it was nothing serious. This time, it gripped the whole of my lower abdomen and kicked me in the back. I doubled up, gasping.
“Madam, madam,” one of the girls called, jerking off her padded seat.
“What is it?” Bimbo was at my side immediately.
“I don’t know,” I groaned, clutching my still cramping belly.
“Can you call your husband?”
I shook my head. From the Island, it would take Chudi at least two hours to get to Bimbo’s shop in Ikeja. “He won’t make it in time, and
I have to get to the hospital as soon as possible. My car is here, can you drive?”
Bimbo backed away and I glimpsed the fear in her eyes. I wondered if this would be her first time driving a car since the accident she and her husband had been involved in. It occurred to me then that I had never seen her drive Tade’s car.
“Please,” I moaned as another cramp followed the first. I was past caring.
Bimbo finally nodded, and two of her apprentices helped me to the car, where I sank gingerly into the passenger seat. I noticed Bimbo hesitate a couple of seconds after she sat down beside me before she took the wheel and started the car. As I opened my mouth to speak, another cramp gripped me.
“Which hospital…” Bimbo began.
“Just drive,” I muttered, breathing through my lips.
The next minutes passed in a blur. The cramps were coming in about ten minute intervals, as if I was in labor. I feared that I was about to lose my three months pregnancy. None of the following cramps were as bad as the first, but still I panted as Bimbo drove to the popular private hospital near our street which, luckily, was the one we used. At the hospital, she half-carried me into reception and harried the nurses till they called a doctor to see me immediately. I looked at her after another contraction had passed and saw the tears in her eyes.
“I called Tade, and also spoke to your husband. He said he’ll be here soon.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. “I’m sorry to have put you through so much trouble.”
To my surprise, Bimbo burst into tears. The doctor called us in before I could ask her what was wrong. It turned out I could be having a miscarriage as I had feared. The doctor was hopeful that coming to the hospital so quickly may have saved the baby, and after taking some blood for tests, recommended some days of bed rest until we were sure. I was given a bed in the female ward and in a few minutes; I was lying on it with Bimbo beside me and holding my hand.
She had quickly wiped away her tears as we went into the consulting room, but they were streaming again. She kept saying she was sorry.
“What is it, Bimbo?” I finally asked.
“I was so scared,” she cried, “I was scared I wouldn’t be able to drive the car, and I was scared you would die. I couldn’t have borne it. Not again.”
The story fell from her in torrents. She told me much more about Funmilayo, and about the accident. She had a lot of guilt about Funmilayo’s death, and believed that if she hadn’t asked her to drive them to the airport; her friend would still be alive. It was going on two years and she had never really forgiven herself. Each day she was alive felt like a betrayal; how could she go on living when Funmilayo was dead? How could she be happy, and laugh and smile, like everything was normal?
I held her hands, all words gone from my mouth. What could I say? The usual platitudes were totally inadequate. I only hoped that she would be relieved by talking about it. Her next words took me by surprise.
“I’m pregnant too.”
“Really?” She wasn’t showing as far as I could tell.
She nodded. “Four months since my last period. I haven’t told anyone yet, not even Tade.”
Before now, I would’ve been simply happy for her, but after her last words, I could see how it would be a conflict for her. I squeezed her hands tighter.
“Some days, I would be ecstatic,” she said, “and other days I would feel like a monster. I would tell myself that I didn’t deserve any happiness. But seeing your experience,” she looked directly into my eyes, “it’s become so clear to me. I can’t live half a life; I have to give it my all. What if I had forgotten how to drive, or had frozen up? You could have miscarried, or worse.”
“I’m fine,” was all I could say.
“I know, and that’s why I’m crying.” Bimbo wiped an arm under her streaming nose. “These are tears of joy and relief,” she continued,
“I now accept that Funmilayo wouldn’t have wanted me to die, or not to take joy in my life. She was the happiest person I ever knew, always laughing.” Bimbo’s gaze was lost somewhere in the past. “We were so happy. She didn’t have a steady boyfriend, but we were already planning her wedding, and how our children would get married to each other.”
Bimbo sighed and shook her head. “I know now that’ll never happen. But there’s a better way to live the life left to me. I have to be fully here for Tade, and for my baby.”
She was smiling by then, and my own lips were stretching from ear to ear. We were wrapped in each other’s arms when Chudi and Tade arrived.
I stayed in the hospital for two weeks, and Bimbo came to see me every day. My baby survived and with each day that passed, I watched Bimbo transform into a totally different person before my eyes. She was more the woman in the wedding gown than the person I had met at my son’s birthday. Without any prompting, she would tell me a little more about Funmilayo, and the many things they had done together. As we began shopping together for baby stuff, people often remarked on Bimbo’s gap teeth and her dimples.
Tade bought me a bottle of wine in thanks. I accepted it but told him I didn’t really have much to do with it. Maybe Funmilayo did.
Bimbo had a bouncing baby girl last week and yesterday, we named her Funmilayo. She’s the prettiest baby you ever saw, and I just know she’ll be great friends with my children, just as I now am with her mother.
Thanks to all those who have read and left comments on Bellanaija Prose. You can also check out my short story portfolio on Naijastories.com