It had happened before, back in the first semester of my sophomore year at the university. I was 17, awkward, and being introduced to the practical experience of intimacy for the first time. It drowned me.
So when, again, I found myself treading on the same waters back in Law School, I thought I would be in a position to handle it better than I did the first time. Maybe I did. Maybe I didn’t. But I learnt, all over again, that when you find yourself sinking in the puddle of another person’s emotional inconsistencies, there is very little you can do to save yourself. So you burn bridges.
The year is 2019, and the country is slugging its way into another electoral facade. Agbani is hot, law school is still fun and everyone is solidifying their holds on their emotional entanglements. My long-distance relationship has peaked, and is now taking an obvious descent into inevitable catastrophe. I’m shopping for a new love interest, her name is Kemi. (Pseudonym, hey.)
I still remember, with such stunning clarity, the first time I saw her. It was at the registration hall where we had our first group meeting. She walked in looking like she came straight out of a live-action Barbie set: purple sweatshirt, blue jeans, purple slip-on, short hair permed to her left, smelled like almonds. She seemed to me as someone still trapped within the vestibule of her teens. She was pretty though, in the most delicate way, and she was svelte as hell, and her eyes were misty all the time. Her vocal cords shook when she spoke, like she was stifling a cry, and, wo, you get the point. Her dressing funny, but she fine die.
That night, I made a joke, and she laughed. I was always saying stupid stuff, and most times people laughed. But it was more important to me that she laughed at my jokes. In class, we were made to sit according to our groups, so she was always seated close to me, enough for us to get distracted by each other’s company. We also met at the mandatory group meetings every evening just beneath the blinding halogen lamps beside the clinic, and her presence motivated my active participation in those shenanigans (apologies, Precious). It was in the sogginess of this proximity that we became friends, and started to flirt, and became an item, and started being called cute together.
And that was when I got into trouble, again.
One morning in February 2019, my girlfriend broke up with me. I understood, and agreed, that it was the only way forward for us. I thanked her for the time and wished her well. In truth, we had both moved on from the relationship long before we drew the curtain on it, and by the time it formally ended, I had turned the direction of my heart towards Kemi, and now I had started waiting behind after classes to talk to her.
Thinking about it now, I can see clearly how attracted I was to her vulnerability, and the frailty of her person, and the saviour complex in me that made me believe that she needed some special kind of warmth that only me could offer to her. It was on the premise of this warped perception I had about her, and her knowledge of it, that she relied upon to orchestrate the level of emotional manipulation she put me through during the span of my fixation on her.
Enters Abdul (pseudonym, too), who we liked to call Baby Boy because of his fluffiness. He bounced when he walked, was firm when he spoke, and had a boyish laughter that bounced off the waves that echoed his voice. He was a smart-mouth, and yeah, he knew how to dress. Jesus, that boy knew how to dress. To be fair, if you looked past his proclivity for prolonging a lethargic afternoon class with his questions, Abdul was pretty chill, and we had a mutually respectful relationship with ourselves.
Because we were made to sit in groups, and his group was behind mine in order of chronology, he always sat somewhere behind me with his friend Dele, with whom I’m still chill with to this day.
I did not know exactly what point he came into the picture. I just noticed that Kemi and Abdul had started to drift ever closer to each other, and now they sat together in class most of the time, and ate opposite of each other at Lizzy’s. There was nothing about this that alarmed me, because I had learned, though grudgingly, that a guy and a girl could be that close on a platonic level. Moreover, I had no right of agency over Kemi’s intimacy yet, as we had no defined relationship, even though it was more than apparent that we were talking, and had started to sneak the I Love Yous into our late night conversations on WhatsApp.
If I thought I was drawn to the gloomy ambiance of Kemi’s existence, then I did not know the storm that was coming, because a few weeks into January, news came that her father had passed, and she had taken the first available flight back home. I had gone to see her when she returned, and even though she tried her best to wear that smile grieving people wore when they wanted to show strength, I could see right through it, and it tore right through me with such intensity that I could only fumble my condolences and leave. I would think back to this moment, and recognize it as the tipping point of my passive attraction to her.
Even though I had liked her before her dad’s demise, the soreness of her hurt and my understanding of what it felt like to lose a parent had grown inside of me the atavistic urge to really wrap myself around her if it helped her ease the grief. I would send her notes in class whenever I noticed she was feeling moody, and would watch her face light up in what I thought was the most beautiful smile I’d ever seen. We passed a lot of notes back then, so much that we became known to everyone who sat around us as the couple who were always passing notes in class. As far as everyone was concerned, we were an item, and I let myself believe this too, because it made sense to. Sometimes we would sit together and would share my earphones while I played for her, songs that I felt would ameriolate her mood. She loved them.
But even though we had, through the notes we passed around to ourselves, expressed a mutual affection for ourselves, we weren’t an item, or anything all. And I started coming to this understanding soon enough.
Valentine’s day came around and I didn’t give two shits about it. But law school had decided to host a cocktail dinner for us on that day, and it was one of those rare occasions we could wear whatever the fuck we liked to a school event. Everyone dressed in their Sunday bests and turned up that night. Earlier that day I had asked Kemi to be my date, and she respectfully declined.
Aww Vic, I’m so sorry. But I’m not really in the mood to go out tonight.
It was fine, and I understood perfectly why someone who had lost her father just a few weeks ago would not really feel like dancing. So I said alright, and remained in the hostel because, well, I had no other motivation to be there, even though everyone else in the hostel had gone.
News went round that night that there were snacks for whoever came, and even though I was full, the natural Nigerian greed that makes one want partake in ceremonial snacks kicked in and I found myself hurrying to the cocktail hall to get mine. No long story. I got there and Kemi was there, radiating in the glory of her pulchritude. Would have made a fine sight if she wasn’t swooning in the arms of this guy Abdul.
Omo, my heart been just dey cut. I tried to avoid her, but then when it came to collecting our snackpacks, we were grouped according to our group in class and food was too important for me to give up on because of smoh heartbreak. We bumped, and she smiled and hollered, and I replied, real cold, Hey. And that was it for the night.
The next morning I dragged my weary heart back to sit beside her in class, making it a point to not look towards her direction, and failing terribly at it. Why? because, the way this shit works, the moment someone gives you the shorter end of the stick, you find yourself lunging at them for more, and that is when the obsession kicks in.
This is where me and Laycon meet.
But unlike Laycon, I am not a slave to my emotional weakness. I know I felt the same way he feels now, but I did not crumble at her feet while begging, and lobbying, and pleading my way into her heart. She fucked up, and I was Victor, and she was going to know about it. So even though I spent the entire day in my seat stealing glances at her direction and hoping that I would catch her looking at me, after classes, I simply got out of my seat, packed my bag and walked out. No notes passed, no after class rendezvous. I did not know if that meant shit to her, but I hoped it did.
(At this point of writing this, Keyshia Cole’s I Remember just came up in my Apple Music shuffle and I have promptly skipped the song because I am not in the mood for this mushy negativity this afternoon.)
Well, it meant something, because she passed me a note the next day asking what’s up. I didn’t write back. And after class she squared up to me to ask why I was being distant. I said nothing, that we were chill. Passive aggression, I know. But I find it utterly disrespectful to my common sense when people hurt me and play coy about it. I mean, you did not see what you did wrong, even when it’s glaring? Fine. My heart yearns for the warmth of your affection, and I will spend the rest of the evening thinking about you. But go fuck yourself.
That night, she missed the group meeting, and even though I tried to be consistent with my aloofness, I had some retrospection, and felt some shame about hinging my care for her on my romantic feelings towards her. So I called her to check if she was fine. She did not take the call, and did not return that call. I would see her later that night in the arms of Abdul, at around the same time everyone around us had concluded that we were, indeed, a couple. I was sinking all over again.
It was all very familiar. I’d been in this exact situation before. I was almost as hurt as I was the first time, but this time I knew my reaction had to be better. And I was determined to pull through this puddle by swimming through it with a defiant indifference. I was doing well at it, until Mr. Ben started to sing to me about how he wasn’t seeing me and my girl together anymore. I would always laugh through it, trying not to talk to him about it because the burden of hurt was mine alone to bare. Talking about it would be me acknowledging whatever ache I was going through, and I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I was getting bruised by a girl’s unrequited affection for me.
But once again, I started getting eaten up by the guilt of shutting down a friendship with a girl who I thought needed it, just because I couldn’t get her in the emotional space I needed her in. So one night, I texted her and told her about how I felt about being passed over for that cocktail dinner date. She apologized. Gave some flimsy excuse. And I bought it as she served it, because I was too far gone into her to rationalize.
The very next day, we were back to passing notes in class, and she was back to spending her after-class hours with Abdul.
Because I was more expressive about my emotions while texting, I texted one night. The intention was to first, ask about how she was feeling, before talking to her about how I felt about whatever was going on between us. She didn’t even reply the first message lol. The next day in class, I would see her on WhatsApp when I looked over at her, texting and laughing to herself, while my message was sitting pretty somewhere in her catalog of low-priority conversations. Who was she texting? The dude behind us, the shining light in her life.
Unlike Laycon, I was under no illusions about my place in her life. And even though she did send me notes that day, I did not respond to her. And I promptly went back to the good ol’ cold shoulder treatment. That night, after group meetings, she walked up to me and started to act cute, in the way women do when they’re trying to oil their way back into your heart after they know they’ve fucked up. I greeted her and pretended like I got a call, and when she was talking to someone else, I made my escape. I just really needed to get out of sight.
That evening, she reported me to Mr. Ben in the manner girlfriends talked to their boyfriend’s friend about something he did. Mr. Ben was my first friend in law school, and my roommate, and the one I went everywhere with. He was in his 40s, wife and kids in the US, and the ceremonial grand-patron of our group. He was the perfect person to report me to.
Mr. Ben did talk to me though, and said I was acting like a child, only because that was the picture of me she had painted to him. He said she is smitten by me, and when I explained to him everything that has been going on between us, he assured me that I had nothing to worry about. Like uncle Ben, like Brighto. He had gassed me up about Kemi’s likeness for me so much that I started to believe him. So I called Kemi and asked that we should see.
The next evening, after the group meeting, we sat in the garden opposite of Snake Island to talk. That was where I had bourne my heart to her about our situation. First I asked her if she had anything going on with anyone, and she unequivocally denied being in any form of emotional involvement with anyone. Then I spoke to her about how I felt about everything that had been going on between us, and how bad I felt about it, and about the clarity I needed from her.
I finished speaking, and it was her turn to speak. Yunno, give excuses and tell me she was going to do better.
But she gave no excuses. Conceded that she had treated me unfairly, and started to sob. As a matter of fact, she did cry. Like, fuck, fam, she had me there. One moment I was aggressively laying down my arguments and expecting to hear her excuses so I could drop the counter arguments I had prepared so perfectly for, and the next moment I was consoling the chick in distress, feeling bad about scolding her in the first place about the way she treated me.
Anyway, we had other stuff to do, and had agreed to meet again the next evening to wrap up the conversation. We were in a good place, and the next day I was going to ask her if or not we could, you know, formally be a thing.
She probably knew this, and knew she was not in the position to be anything with me, and so when it was time for us to have that meeting, she did not take her call, and did not return it, so I waited and waited. And when I was done waiting, I woke the fuck up.
I have learnt, all over again, that when you find yourself sinking in the puddle of another person’s emotional inconsistencies, there is very little you can do to save yourself. So you burn bridges.
So I burnt bridges. Deleted her number, blocked her everywhere, and deleted all the cute pictures we took together. Went ice on her, again. But this time it was not changing for shit. The last time she squared me up just after our group meetings, the conversation went thus:
Did you block me on WhatsApp?
— Coz I can.
I did not say any of these with the firmness of voice that you probably read this with. But, in the classic words of women on Twitter who try to be defiant about whatever bullshit they have just tweeted: I said what I said.
Walked back to my hostel that night feeling totally unsure about whether or not I had done the right thing. We could have stayed friends. I could have dragged myself through law school pretending to her and everyone else that I was down for being cool with her, in the way that she wanted. In the way that Erica wants Laycon to be. But I didn’t, because I have learnt from two experiences, that the only way out of this hole, is to set everything on fire.
We remained strangers throughout the pendency of our Bar II programme. She moved on with whatever entanglement she was on with Abdul. Bar finals came and went. We both scaled, and three months later we found ourselves in Bwari again doing our clearance. A lot of water (and feelings) had passed under the bridge, so we hugged, laughed, and even shared a cab all the way to the Supreme Court to sign some documents I no longer remember. These days, she’s a corporate lawyer currently serving in Lagos. These days, I’m writing stuff for a Dantata brand. These days, life has moved on, and we are riding on its waves.