I first met her three months after I arrived in Calgary. We’d both attended an employability workshop for new immigrants at the Calgary Central Library. She’d arrived late, flushed and flustered and had made her way to the back of the room, hurriedly slapping on the name badge one of the organizers handed to her and shrugging off her winter coat. Even before I spied the name on her badge, I knew she was Nigerian too. It’s like Nigerians wear a neon sign on their heads that sets them off from other black people.
I stole a glance at her and quite liked what I saw. She was pretty and after she’d peeled off the layers and layers she’d had on under the jacket, my interest piqued. Not bad I thought. Despite all that, I might have forgotten all about her after the program. In fact, the chances of our paths ever crossing again in a city like Calgary were about 2 in 100 at best. Hey, I come across pretty women everyday so this wasn’t just about physical attraction, far from it.
Towards the end of the workshop, we had mock interviews and the facilitator called for volunteers. I was one of the volunteers and I can say that my responses were some of the most articulate of the bunch. I didn’t get too many critiques from the other participants and the facilitator also had few corrections for me. What can I say? Seven years in the cut-throat banking industry in Lagos does prepare you for almost anything and sets you a notch above the rest. I noticed that during the exercise, she kept pretty much to herself, not offering any critiques or comments. She kept scribbling in a little pink notebook and pushing her glasses up her nose in an absent minded way that made you think she wasn’t even aware she was doing it.
“I have just one more question.” The facilitator said. “Does anyone want to take it?”
The hand of the Indian guy in the front row shot up. He’d answered three already and had had an opinion about everyone else’s response. An audible groan went up through the room and I realized I wasn’t the only one who was tired of the guy.
“Hmmnnn, maybe we should throw it to someone who hasn’t answered any today.” The facilitator said with a little smile. “Do you want to give it a go?” She said looking to the back of the room. We all swiveled in our seats and she found about 24 pairs of eyes trained on her.
“Me?” She said. You can’t be serious the look on her face screamed.
“Yes, give it a shot.” The facilitator said. “Remember, this is a safe and respectful place and we’re all here to help each other.”
Somehow, it sounded more like that was directed at the class know-it-all.
“Oh okay.” She said resignedly, giving her glasses another poke and then getting up.
When she took the seat at the front of the room, she smiled shyly at the facilitator.
“Okay Low-lah,” the facilitator said, reading her name tag. “Here goes: you are applying for the role of a Technical Writer. Can you tell me what influenced your current career choice?”
She cocked her head to the side in contemplation for a few seconds and then took a deep breath before she swept the world right out from under me.
She spoke with such passion and drive and it was hard to believe this was the seemingly shy and introverted person who hadn’t uttered a single word all day. She became animated and her face shone and I saw through the shy façade to the strength and determination underneath. I can’t explain it but it was like she cast a spell on me and I knew she was what I wanted.
The entire room sat mesmerized for a few moments after she ended and it was like her passion was still echoing and bouncing off the walls.
“Well” the facilitator said finally. “Any comments?”
No one had anything to say to that, not even the self-appointed head boy.
“I think you answered that beautifully. There’s really not much I can add to it!” The facilitator said.
She smiled the most beautiful smile then and poked at her glasses.
As soon as the workshop broke up, I went straight to her.
“That was really good.” I heard one of the organizers say to her. “Came straight from the heart.”
She smiled again, a look of mild surprise on her face, like she wasn’t really sure the compliment was directed at her.
“Hi!” I said and struck out my hand. “My name is Kunle.”
“Hi, I’m ‘Molola.”
That was five years ago and we’ve been married four years now. Well, I like to think that I have impeccable taste and I always get what I want and I’d wanted that deeply passionate, driven and creative woman like I’d wanted nothing else in my entire life.
After that first day, I came to see a lot of that drive and ambition that had attracted me to ‘Molola. It was magnetic and it held you spell bound. It was also the thing I loved the most about her. She was creative and smart and had a way of bringing life into any space.
A few months after that first meeting, I got a job with Suncor Oil and her with FLIPP as a copywriter.
“There’s this line I want to pitch to Brian for the Florex campaign” She said to me over coffee one day. “I think we’re going too floppy with it, we need more oomph and…”
She was gesticulating with her hands and her eyes were animated behind her glasses.
“That might not be such a good idea.” I said.
“Why?” She asked, a tinge of doubt clouding out the light in her eyes.
“You might come across as a bit…arrogant…”
“But this is Brian, he’s really down to earth, besides, this will reflect well on the whole team when management…”
“You’ve just been there four months and you’re the junior copy writer, I’m sure Brian’s experienced enough to know what’s best.” I patted her hand. “The realtor called. He wants me to come in tomorrow. They’re probably done with my credit check.”
She gave her head a confused shake and the light flickered out. I ignored it and talked about my plans to take out a mortgage instead. We never spoke about the campaign again. Case closed.
About a year after we got married, we started to talk seriously about starting a family and I suggested to ‘Molola that she should think about stopping work. I was earning more than enough for the both of us and even two or three little ones, so we didn’t need to worry. Of course she argued with me about it. I hadn’t expected anything less. She loved her job she said, and her work was flexible enough to allow her time to take care of any children that came along. She was even ready to work just part time, anything but quitting outright. I let it slide that time, not just because we didn’t have any children then, but because I knew that she would quit when the time came. I always had my way.
By the time the recession of 2015 hit, she had become an editor at FLIPP. At the time, it seemed that the worse the economy got, the more companies tried to entice customers to part with their non-existent cash, hence, the Advertising Agencies were raking it in. I was not so lucky. The direct opposite was tearing through the oil industry and I was in the first batch of lay-offs at Suncor. The layoff hit me real bad. I’d never been laid off before in my entire working life and it was hard wrapping my head around it. But being the resilient man that I am, I was determined to jump right back on the horse. After almost seven months, I finally got a call from a little company in Halifax. They wanted me to take up their foreman position for less than a third of what I’d been earning before I got laid off. I didn’t think twice about it. ‘Molola quit her job at FLIPP and we moved to Halifax.
When we got to Halifax, I got my wish and ‘Molola became a full time house wife because she couldn’t get a job.
“I think I’ll start writing my book.” She said trying to muster up some optimism.
I grunted a non-committal reply. She’d been talking about writing a book for as long as I’d known her and had never gotten around to doing it. I doubted very much it would ever happen.
Maybe it was because she had little else to do (apart from taking care of her working husband of course), or maybe it was that focused determination that had seen her rise through the ranks at FLIPP, I’m not sure, but she spent the next few months pecking away on her laptop working on her book.
“Are you even taking the time to fill out job apps?” I asked her one night. “Dig your nose out of that laptop and face the real world. You need to engage in something that actually brings in money.”
It had been a really long day at work, and there had been another wave of lay-offs so I was a bit cranky.
“Huh, what was that?” she said absently, still pecking away at the damn thing.
I was this close to throwing the stupid thing at the wall.
“A job.” I said through gritted teeth. “Are you even trying at all?” At helping to support this family, at having a baby, at everything!
“Oh that. I’ve got an interview on Monday. It’s a part-time receptionist position but it’s better than nothing.”
“Good.” I grunted.
“I also sent out a query letter to a Book Agent today. The book isn’t finished yet but I have enough for a good pitch.” She said. “If she replies…”
“How much are they going to pay you per hour for the receptionist job?” I asked.
“16 dollars.” She said and her shoulders drooped a little lower.
She went back to her laptop and didn’t even realize the soup she’d been cooking was burning until the smoke alarms went off. I didn’t complain or say a thing even though I had to eat burnt soup that night and the burnt smell made it almost impossible to sleep. When she went to bed, I logged into her computer and scanned through the book she’d been working on. She had a folder with over 20 word documents, each one about 15 pages long. Form the little I read, I knew the story was good. I hadn’t expected any less anyways, this was ‘Molola after all, she is talented. I also saw several other folders with other story ideas on the laptop. My beautiful, talented and ambitious ‘Molola. I felt that strong wave of attraction I’d felt that first day at the library and I smiled wistfully, feeling lucky all over again that she was mine.
Then I formatted the laptop.
‘Molola practically went crazy when she found out all her work was gone.
“How is this even possible!”
I shrugged. “These things happen.”
“What? Just happen?! I feel like my entire life’s work is gone!”
“Get a grip and stop being such a drama queen! It was just a silly old laptop anyway.”
“I’m going to take it to Memory Express, maybe they can do something about…”
“And then charge you an arm and a leg abi? You’re not earning any money yet, remember?”
“Look, we have more important things to worry about. You’re not Chimamanda for crying out loud! Focus on smashing this interview on Monday instead of chasing some silly dream!”
She looked like she was going to say something but her lips trembled instead. I saw her eyes lose what little lustre they still had and then went dead. You know, that light that had drawn me to her like a magnet, I’d followed it like the wise men seeking the Messiah and then I’d put it out. All that was left of that woman was a pretty little box with all the life gone from it.
I told myself I’d done the right thing when she got the receptionist job. She was a changed person but that didn’t matter. It was probably good in more ways than one. She became distant, and the quiet, introverted girl I’d first seen behind the boxy glasses five years ago came to take permanent residence. She seemed to just float around, going through the motions, like she’d given up on life itself. She’ll get over it I told myself. She just needs time to put things in perspective. And maybe a Baby.
“HR asked me to apply for an internal vacancy.” She said one night. “It’s for an Executive Assistant position.”
“It’s a full time position and I’ll probably earn up to 30 an hour.” She continued.
“What makes you think you’ll get it?” I said absently. I was already dismissing the whole thing from my mind. “It’s a big jump from receptionist.”
“Well, the head of HR recommended me himself. He’d gotten such great reviews for me and…”
I scoffed. “The guy is probably just hoping to get in your pants. Tell him to dream on!” I flipped the page of the Metro Halifax I’d been reading.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” she asked in a quiet, steely voice.
I looked up at her, surprised. I’d not heard that tone in a long, long while, longer than the light had been gone from her eyes. I saw a hint of that light now, a tiny bitty spark of it in her dull, brown eyes.
My momentary surprise was replaced by anger which I tried to tamp down. I hated it when she talked back at me. I thought she knew that, knew how much I hated it.
“Well” I said giving a disinterested shrug. “Think about it, why else would he recommend you for the position? You just joined the company as a Temp worker and you don’t even have any experience being a whatchamacallit. Stop getting ahead of yourself.”
She had stood and stared at me for the longest time. And then she’d spat a single word at me before walking out.
It was my turn to stare. With my jaw hanging open. Hanging to the floor, that is. She’d never ever stood up to me before. Never. She hardly ever argued with me even.
“’Molola?!” I yelled after her, livid, but she didn’t come back. She just walked out of the house without a backward glance and I haven’t seen her since. The next evening when I got back from work, her things were gone. Every last bit of it. Not even a toothbrush was left behind. I’m still trying to process it, where the hell would she go?! I’m all she has here in Halifax, heck, in all of Canada! When we’d moved from Calgary, she had lost touch with the few friends she had there and I hadn’t really encouraged her to mingle with too many people here. Her family was all back in Nigeria and every time she’d brought up the issue of her mother visiting, I always gave reasons why it was not the right time. So where the hell did she go? I was her everything and she had nothing and no one else outside of me. I told myself that she would come to her senses soon enough and come crawling back, but when I didn’t hear a word from her in two weeks, it started to occur to me that she really might be gone for real.
I went to the IT Company where she worked and found out she’d turned down the promotion and quit as well. Of course I didn’t know any friends to call and the last thing I wanted to do was call her mother and ask if she’d been in touch. Her number kept going to voice mail and she never replied any of my emails, not the ones threatening blue murder nor the ones begging her to please come home.
I still wonder what had happened, how it had happened. Sweet, quiet ‘Molola just upping and leaving like that. Not in a million years would I have seen it coming. How did a person just snap and do something so drastic like that? I guess if you push them far and hard enough, they will. I know I come across as a selfish, manipulative bastard, but you need to understand that I loved and still love my wife very much. She’s the only woman I’ve ever felt such deeply intense emotions for, and how could I not? She’s the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. Her passion and drive and spirit are such a breath of fresh air. You can’t be in the presence of such essence without being smitten. I can’t explain it but those very things I loved about her, the very reasons I wanted her and stopped at nothing until she married me, those qualities that made her who she was, I had to squash them, I had to kill them. I needed to take them from her.
It’s been 15 months since she walked out on me and today, I saw a tweet from her old boss, Brian. He was one of the people I was too ashamed to call to ask about her but whom I stalked online in case anything about her slipped out. Today, I got my break. Not a single squeak in 15 months, then this. He’d tweeted about ‘Molola’s debut novel being released on the Kindle store. She actually did it I thought. Truth is, I always knew she had it in her. Maybe that was why I put her down at every opportunity. She’d blocked me on Twitter and Facebook donkey years ago so I couldn’t even get to congratulate her.
They say good things happen in threes, and I am a firm believer in the omne trium perfectum. Well, that was until today. I received a snail mail just as I was reading the reviews ‘Molola’s book had already garnered. I tore open the big brown envelope, curious. When I saw the contents, I realized that ‘Molola had finally reached out to me like I’d known she would all these months. She had served me with divorce papers. My beautiful hummingbird was not only singing, she was breaking free as well.