I was inside Shoprite at AOS Mall in Surulere, queuing to buy bread when somebody tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned, I was shocked to see Aunty Joy.

“Aunty Joy! My God!!” I exclaimed. She was all smiles. I stepped out of the queue momentarily and got a bear hug.

“So you never still drop this “Aunty Joy” habit?” She said feigning a frown.”If people hear an old man like you calling me Aunty Joy, how can I claim to be young?”

I laughed heartily and hugged her again. We had always been close and though she was just about seven years older, I got a kick out of calling her Aunty Joy.

“Tony! Na your eye be this?!” She asked, surveying me with joy in her eyes.

“Na my eye o…and the rest of me.” I said chuckling.

She laughed. “You’re looking really well. I’m so happy.”

“Na God o! Na God. How are you doing? It appears time has had no effect on you whatsoever. You’re still looking very chic.” She hit me playfully and rearranged her hair unconsciously.

“This your sweet mouth. You haven’t lost it one bit!” She laughed.

“But you know I don’t flatter. You’ve really lost weight. I wouldn’t have recognized you if you hadn’t tapped me.” I said earnestly. She really had lost a lot of weight, unlike the homely and cuddly teddy bear I knew years ago and she looked good. A lot fresher than I remember.

“So its noticeable?” She asked brightening considerably. “God knows I’ve been working hard at it so that all these younger girls won’t turn Bode’s head.” She winked and we both laughed.

“How is Bode?” I asked.

“He’s fine o. He’s now in Lagos o. They finally transferred him from Ibadan two years ago. Hmmm.” She said with relief. Her husband, Bode worked with an engineering firm and got transferred to Ibadan for a project that took over three years to complete. It took its toll on her but she had managed to keep the home front here in Lagos as she worked here. She had resisted vehemently all attempts to make her move to Ibadan. “What will I be doing there? I can’t leave my Lagos o!” she had said.

“And Seun? How’s the young lad doing?”
“They are good o.” She beamed. When my expression changed to one of surprise, she smiled jubilantly.

“Seun has a sister now o. Funke is two now.” She said with pride. Seun, her first child would be roughly seven years of age. As at four years ago, she was still hoping for a second child.

“That’s wonderful! God is great!!” I exclaimed, genuinely thrilled. She was such a wonderful wife and mother.

“Yes o! He…” The person behind me on the queue indicated to me that it was my turn to make my purchase. I excused myself and went on to buy four loaves of bread. I dropped two of the loaves inside her trolley waving away her protests.

“Let’s find somewhere to sit down and catch up.” I said, taking over her shopping trolley. She nodded. We found a free seat close to the food store. I ordered chicken and chips I knew she loved so much. She protested saying I was trying to ruin all her hard work in trying to lose weight but she ate as we caught up on lost time. I carefully avoided any topic that would lead to Lola while silently wishing she would bring something up.

My patience was rewarded after twenty minutes.

“So how are you? I noticed you are still not married.” She said in a more subdued tone in contrast to the jokes we threw at each other.

“I’ve been very busy.” I said playing with my can of Fanta.

She sighed before she continued. “I didn’t have the nerve to call you after I heard what happened. After what Lola did to you.”

My heart skipped a beat at the mention of Lola.

“Many times, I tried to call but I was afraid of how you would take it. I was thinking you’d hate us all.”

“Why would I hate you? You never wronged me in any way.” I said, shrugging. I could say this confidently now because she didn’t call. If she had, only God knows how I would have reacted.

“And not a day goes by that Lola doesn’t regret her actions…” She paused.

I looked up in surprise. “She regrets her actions? She seemed pretty convinced at the time.” I said bitterly.

Joy regarded me for a while. “You’re still hurting. Is that why you’re still unmarried?”

I managed a laugh. “Of course not. I told you how busy I’ve been.”

She kept silent again. I knew she wasn’t buying my busy story. She toyed with a piece of chip dipped in ketchup and seemed deep in thought. She wanted to say something but she kept holding herself back. For some strange reason, my heart beat rate increased; I was ashamed of myself.

“Lola is a widow now.” She said somberly.

I was expecting to hear so many things; that she left her husband, that the planned wedding didn’t work out, that she was unhappy…anything, but this.

“What?! How?!” I blurted out before I could help myself.

She sighed and took a sip out of the canned coke on the table next to her plate. She seemed to be lost at watching a child throwing a hell of a tantrum with his mother trying desperately to calm him down. His wild cries echoed around the big hall where we sat, drowning the soft sounds of music from hidden but surrounding speakers. Everybody’s attention seemed focused on the boy. He couldn’t have been more than seven but he had a very nasty temper. The burger and Ribena his mother had bought him were on floor, wasted.

Spoilt kids, I thought.

“Her husband died not up to six months after their wedding. A mysterious illness. He just started complaining of a headache and two days later, he was gone.” She said suddenly jolting me back to our discussion.

I’m not a bad person but a part of me celebrated some what. Celebrated because shortly after Lola broke my heart, she got something worse in return. Payback, the evil thought said but I checked myself and tried to imagine what she had gone through. The jubilant feeling of retribution was immediately replaced with sympathy.

“That’s terrible! I never heard.” I said with genuine remorse; more for my evil thoughts than for Lola’s loss. A part of me kept saying she deserved it and my conscience pricked right back.

“She was particular that you shouldn’t hear about it. She felt…she felt God was getting back at her for what she did to you.” Joy said sadly.

She got that right, I said to myself. My conscience kicked at me again.

“Where is she now?” I asked after sometime. I didn’t know what else to say.

“She’s back with me. Had to observe her for almost a year to make sure she didn’t commit suicide…besides, there were other issues. I wanted to call you but she wouldn’t hear of it.” She said apologetically.

“I understand.” I said. “I’m just surprised I didn’t hear anything at all. And I ran into her friend Tope several times and she never told me anything…you know Tope?” She nodded.

Actually, I had run into Tope more than several times. We had a couple of flings and eventually lost steam and stopped seeing each other by mutual consent.

Hmm. I didn’t know what to do with this news. My more humane side took over and I suddenly wondered about seeing her again.

“Is she…?” I asked rather embarrassed but Joy read my mind.

“Seeing anybody? No.” She said completing my question and furnishing an answer. I pondered on this. I thought I was done caring but I couldn’t help thinking if seeing her one last time would let me know if I had really moved on.

I had to find out.

Malcolm O. Ifi.

Engage on twitter @saymalcolm