Okanlawon has been on a rollercoaster in the past forty-five days. At 42, he felt that the time was running out for him to make it. He was becoming desperate and frustrated. Things are not falling in the right places for him. Making it, is to at least, build a house over his head and have a solid car or two to drive around. He had not done very well for himself working for others.
From High School, Okanlawon has been popularly known as ‘Lawon. The last two syllables of his four-syllable – name had stuck from his second year after he had told his classmates that their school would be victorious in a Principal Cup quarter final match taking place two days from thence. “A ma là won,” he had said in Yorùbá. Translated, it meant that his school would defeat the opponent. His classmates had shortened his name to Lawon since then. This followed him through out his school days.
Twice, Lawon had been fired from jobs for things he considered very ridiculous and nauseating. Three other times he has had to quit jobs because he either felt disrespected or did not like the job. He believed that he needed to break out on his own. He had always thought that this would be his best bet. He wanted to be the master of his own destiny; the captain of his own soul.
His delayed foray into personal business ventures had been fueled by the fears of the unknown. He was apprehensive of corrugated roads of private ventures littered with pains and sufferings, stemming from lack of support from family and friends, especially when things got to be slow. He was not a bold risk taker. He preferred to measure his risks.
Several times, he had mourned the death of his mother. “She remains the only person who ever believed in me,” he had soliloquised. He was convinced that if his mother was alive, he would have had the financial cushion he needed for a start off. “She would have given me unqualified moral support and urged me on. What a great loss her death is to me,” he quietly lamented as he ruminated on what has been another disappointing day.
Famished and exhausted, he looked around from where he was standing in front of a bank that has just removed another wheel from the vehicle of his dream, searching for a restaurant that would not be too expensive for his pocket. Then, like a tornado, his divorce and separation from his wife pierced though his thoughts, leaving in its trail, mutilated cinders of emotional conflagration.
He felt like crying. His eyes, like a fountain, suddenly became a spring of tears. The hotness of the tears dissipated the effect of the air-conditioning he had enjoyed while in the bank and exacerbated the pilloring heat of the searing sun. He felt the rims of his eyes burning as if sprayed with hot pepper. The back of his neck, precipitously became swampy. He pulled out his white handkerchief from the inner chest pocket of his grey coat and wiped his face; and then his neck, from back to the front. Even, Lawon himself could not tell whether he was wiping tears or sweat.
His heart missed a couple of beats. The heart resumption of the beat was with an increased velocity, racy and fiery. His heart pounded so hard that he felt he was under assault from a pestle wielding assailant. The whirlwind of pain was strong enough to give a heart attack. But like a stubborn palm tree by the ocean side, he made strenuous efforts to defy the surging whirlwind of pain. He got himself together as he strewn up his face and swallowed a bile of bitter saliva.
Three years after the divorce, the pains still remained fresh. Divorce and separation was never on his plan for his life. Lawon had truly loved Laide, his wife. He believed that Laide did not love him in equal measure. He was fixated on his conclusion that if Laide had loved him, just a little, their marriage could have been salvaged. The experience has left him with a kind of repugnance about women. He has not been attracted to any woman in those three years.
Lawon had reasoned that with the absence of his mother, a supportive, loving and caring wife would have been better than no support at all. He was convinced that most of his initial fears that delayed his foray into private business venture would have been effectively neutralised. He still could not believe that Laide did not look back. “I don’t know if I can ever get used to it”, he said to himself. He then remembered Tobi (10) and Bimbo (7), his son and daughter respectfully.
Tobi and Bimbo have been Lawon’s sources of unalloyed joy and happiness. He had doted over them effortlessly and consistently. They were his world. He felt at home with them. He was never able to spend any extra minute outside, after closing at work, in order to get to his babies. They were his paradise away from the hell their mother represented.
In a marriage that felt like a furnace, Tobi and Bimbo had provided synchronized succour for Lawon. They played together. They cooked together. They ate together. They talked and discuss any subject that either of them would bring up. Weekends were like God given treasures to the three of them. It gave them infinite time to savour each other’s company, until Monday would intrude and disrupt.
“Laide had been mean to me, breaking my home and taking my children away from me,” Lawon lamented again as he sighted a restaurant under a skyscraper on his right. He had to walk about seventy meters to get there. It felt like seventy miles given the level of his hunger, but he was not discouraged. He walked as fast as his legs could carry him.
As he walked towards the restaurant, he remonstrated himself wondering why he could not have chosen to take a cab to the other side of town to seek out a Bukateria where he could be treated to the same local food that he wanted at a far lesser cost. He wanted pounded yam. He felt that this was what he needed at this point. But he reasoned that having had a rough day, he needed an environment where he could calm down, cool his head and recalibrated.
“This is a good choice,” Lawon persuaded himself as the doorman pulled the glass door to let him in. He wanted a not so conspicuous place to seat. He wanted to be able to spend few minutes after the meal to discuss with himself his next course of action on the most important project of his life. It was the reason he had found himself on this side of town to discuss funding for a 55.5 million naira project that an international corporation was desirous to partner on, with him.
It was the break he has been looking for. If this could come through, he would come into his own. His dreams would be in his palms. He certainly would feel fulfilled. At last, he would be able to walk in the cloud and go after his babies. He was determined to reenact those wonderful days of yore with them before they grow too old to find their ways into the world. He was hoping that the involvement of the international corporation would give the confidence needed by any bank to want to be part of this. Though, he has not gotten the answers he wanted, he believed he must persevere. He knew he could not give up, because everything depended on this.
Entering into the restaurant, he felt rescued from the furnacious heat of the sun, as his mind strayed to the Biblical book of Daniel in Chapter 3 where the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three Hebrew men thrown into a fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon when they refused to bow down to the king’s image; the three were preserved from harm and the king saw four men walking in the flames, “the fourth… like a son of God.”
As Lawon took a deep breath and scanned the restaurant, he was immediately hooked on the belief that he would have to pay through his nose for whatever he ordered here this afternoon. Inebriated by the aroma of variety of soups, especially the egusi lazed with bitterleaf spiced with miniature chunks of shàkì, roasted turkey, òmóòyo Titus brand of fish and pònmó, his throat that just swallowed a bile of bitter saliva several moments ago, frothed and slabbered recklessly in anticipation.
As his head wondered cluelessly from his right to his left, he could not believe his eyes, as he subconsciously got stupefied by a lone figure, majestically ensconced in the light shade of the shadow provided by the tile panelled wall of the restaurant. Unthinking, unconscious, entranced and benumbed, he walked, as if propelled by an unseen spirit, obviously hypnotised by the earring-less beauty, adorned in simple Ankara clothes.
The Ankara clothes, green in background, flavoured with curly flowered leaves in yellow colours, was used as light but gorgeous headgear, perching on sewn ispartan styled butterfly blouse top and ìró (Yorùbá word for wrapper). As Lawon kept approaching this lady, he gazed at her left hand, holding a cup of orange juice. Her fingers, beautifully sculptured and manicured, curled like a millipede round the cup with a tiny ring, almost imperceptible, tethered around the wedding finger.
A permanent smile seemed etched on her face which was inviting. Ebony black in complexion, the Ankara clothes in its simplicity, strives strenuously but not very successfully, to cocoon a magnificent beauty. Lawon wondered as he approached, fiercely evaluating her with a furious haste. No necklace. No jewelry. No wristwatch. No earring. Her slippers, modest in its elegance, revealed delightfully sexy toes. The colours of the slippers, matching the Ankara dress, presented an overall alluring and pulsating beauty.
It was evident that his entire being was in turmoil as he tried to compose himself. His hunger, completely vanished. It took extra efforts for Lawon to remain calm and controlled. He was overwhelmed with the beauty. He was in awe of her personality. Classy. Simple. Inexpensive. Elegant. Modest. Yet, with an air of sophistication that is ostentatiously silent.
Amazed and dumbfounded, Lawon stuttered as he stood across the table from her.
“Do you mind if I share this table with you?” Lawon managed to say.
The lady, with a majestic gradualism, raised her head to respond in an arresting sonorous but velvety voice, charmingly wrapped in her bewitching smile, “Feel free.”
“My name is Okanlawon. Everyone calls me Lawon,” he introduced himself as he made to sit down.
The lady was silent for about thirty seconds before responding. But to Lawon, in his impatience, it was like thirty years.
“That is a beautiful name,” she had said laconically, without volunteering her own name.
Lawon, unsure how to respond or proceed, smiled. It was a smile that was not a true reflection of the anxiety that had gripped him inside. His mind racing rancorously, was tulmutous. He was scared really. Scared of messing up in the front of this beautiful lady. Scared of not succeeding in winning her heart.
“Thank you,” Lawon was finally able to say and immediately adding, “And may I be privileged to know what your name is?”
“Why would that be necessary?” the lady said gently, searching his eyes with a succulent look that would have melted a stone.
Hiding his perplexity, Lawon said in a controlled and highly modulated tone, “It would be a great loss to me if don’t get to know you better.”
The lady smiled. Rather than responded, he gestured towards the waiter and informed Lawon that his order was being awaited.
“Please, can you excuse me for few minutes. I will call you when I am ready,” Lawon said spontaneously to the waiter who said “Yes, sir,” and moved away.
Now a sort of confidence was generated by that development and Lawon’s nerves became calmer. He then ventured, “I will be greatly favoured if I know your name.”
“Banke, Olabanke,” she said quietly, in a deliriously hypnotising voice. In Lawon’s ears, he was hearing the voice of an angel, an heavenly creature on visitation to mother Earth. He felt like in seventh heavens.
(To be continued)