It was her second day at work and Tolani Davidson was nervous. She tried to hide the worry from her face but it wasn’t working. When she saw the appointment letter telling her she had been hired as one of the lead anchors for a flagship program by Africa Magic, she nearly fainted. She remembered the auditions and cringed at the many times she felt she goofed. She wasn’t sure why she was picked but she knew she was not going to mess up her lifelong dream.
She, and the remaining four ladies (Hasiya, Nneka, Ogele and Ihotu), were supposed to go through some training to understand the style of the station. It was a lifestyle program that already had huge sponsorship and everyone needed to have their hands on deck.
Tolani kept wondering if she could be savvy when they finally went on air. She didn’t join in the conversation the other ladies were having. She just held her phone and pretended to surf the net.
The door opened and he walked in. They all looked up and Ihotu let out a gasp. The person in front of them was a young, handsome and dapper man who could only be described as suave. He wasn’t Trey Songz handsome but he had a presence about him that seemed to say, ‘I can get you, without even trying.’ He stared at each of them in turn and smiled. Tolani felt her insides fall.
‘Hi. I am Otobrise Wayemi. I will be your coach for the next few weeks. I will teach you poise on camera, how to laugh on the show, when and how to talk and the importance of listening to your producers. We will be having the biggest African stars on this show and if you are star-struck, you better get over yourself! You have to learn to be the epitome of class, carriage, poise, intelligence and sophistication. This is a huge opportunity and we are launching you all to stardom. One mistake and you are out! This business has no room for mercy. Am I clear?’ he finished by looking at Tolani. She didn’t know why but she couldn’t break eye contact. He looked at her for some more seconds then looked back at the others. Tolani felt the constriction in her chest which told her she was madly attracted to Mr. Otobrise.
Mr. Otobrise went through some coaching with them for the better part of an hour. When he was done, he left his phone number and email address in case anyone had questions. As soon as he was out of the office, the girls all started talking; with the exception of Tolani of course. They went on and on about his cuteness, his ‘swag’ and how they wouldn’t mind doinghim. Tolani smiled to hide the jealousy she felt when she heard that.
After a long day at work, Tolani finally went home. She showered and fixed herself a fruit salad. When Tolani was done eating, she tried to rest…but it wasn’t working.
She kept thinking of Mr. Otobrise and wondering what he was like when he wasn’t so serious. The velvety quality of his voice kept caressing her as she laid on her couch. Why did he have to have that honeysuckle voice and speak so well?! Why couldn’t he have been a bore?! The frustration of trying to shake him off was telling on her. She kept fighting the urge to Google him and find out more about him. She knew it wouldn’t work so she called her boyfriend.
‘Hey baby. What’chu doing?’
For days, the ladies kept having different coaches on various aspects of the production. They had health and fitness instructors, skin care therapists, stylists and makeover artists teaching them proper primping methods and hair stylists to instruct them on the best hair for their show. For Tolani, only Mr. Otobrise mattered. She was learning a lot but she knew what she was feeling for him was crazy. She wanted him bad! If she wasn’t so socially awkward, she might have tried to contact him outside work but she was scared shirtless.
She knew he was chummy with the other ladies. They had actually become friends. She envied the ladies but she knew there was no way she could be just friends with him. She even still called him ‘Mr. Otobrise’ to prevent her from getting attached.
She was especially worried because he was coming in today. She wondered what he would be wearing, how he would smell, if he had a haircut or if he would look a little less dapper. She kept flicking her eyes from her phone to the door; waiting, anticipating. She steeled herself for his entrance but it didn’t help anything. When he walked in, her heart fluttered, her chest constricted, her breath came in short gulps and her hands became sweaty.
His eyes went straight to her and Tolani was glad she wasn’t standing. She looked down and opened her pad. She made the decision not to look at him all through the lecture. She only looked up when she was sure he was looking at one of the other girls.
He was halfway through his lecture on maintaining poker faces during discussions about delicate issues when his phone rang.
‘I am sorry. I have to take this. It is my wife.’
Tolani shot her head up! He was married?! HE WAS MARRIED?!!
He turned to Tolani and saw the expression of hurt on her face. She didn’t even bother hiding it. As the tears slowly gathered in her eyes, she left the office and ran to the ladies convenience. She looked at the mirror and willed the tears away. They wouldn’t budge. Instead, they came in stronger and poured over. She chose a stall, sat on the toilet seat and just let it go. She cried and cried until she was spent. Why was he married?! Why did he have to be married?! Why couldn’t he have just been in a relationship? Why couldn’t he have been single?! And why the hell did she feel this way after just knowing him for less than 3 weeks?!
She cleaned up her face, squared her shoulders and returned to the office. The ladies looked at her but it was Mr. Otobrise that asked the question in their eyes. ‘Are you okay?’
Tolani smiled and nodded. ‘I choked on the gum I was chewing. Guess the lesson to be learned is not to chew gum at all.’
He looked at her a bit longer and seemed to accept her explanation. He finished off his class, entertained questions and left.
Hasiya hit the table and exclaimed, ‘Why are all the good guys taken? This isn’t fair jare!’
Ihotu laughed. So did Nneka. ‘God catch you! Even with the fact that you are getting married, you are still checking out another man. Abegee, go and rest jare!’ Nneka said.
Ogele looked at the ladies and said, ‘His marriage means nothing to me jare. If I want him, I will still get him. Married or not!’
It started an argument and they all laughed at their craziness. Tolani didn’t want to join in the conversation but she got dragged into it anyway. She put up her best fake expression and pretended all that talk about Mr. Otobrise was not peeling away the layers of her happiness. When she couldn’t fake it any longer, she excused herself and headed to the office lounge for breakfast.
Tolani was surfing the net as she chewed on her muffin when she heard, ‘May I join you?’
She couldn’t mistake that voice but she looked up anyway.
‘Mr. Otobrise. Erhmmm, sure…you can….join me’. She stuttered.
‘Oh enough of the mister. You can call me Brise.’ he said, disarming her with his smile.
‘Erhmmm…okay! Hi Brise, I am Tolani.’ to which he laughed. He had such a rich laughter that Tolani felt she could get lost in it. Her eyes flitted to his left hand and didn’t see a ring…or the sign of one. Otobrise followed her line of site and smiled.
‘I never wear a ring. I believe that a ring cannot prevent a man or woman from cheating. If I am not committed to my spouse, a ring cannot change that.’
‘Good ideology. Does your wife share the same belief?’ Tolani asked, putting her hand under the table to hide their tremor.
‘Yes. She does. Enough about her. What was REALLY wrong with you back there?’
Tolani looked at him and kept his gaze. She looked away, putting her hands on the table in the process. He touched her hand and said, ‘Don’t leave’ in the barest of whispers, effectively reading her mind. She looked at his hand on hers and from there looked at his face. She gulped when she saw the raw emotion written there. She cleared her throat.
‘I believe you know what was wrong with me.’
Otobrise nodded. ‘From the moment I met you, it has been a flurry of different emotions. Yes, I am married. Yes, I love my wife. But I feel something for you. It is weird because I have been fighting myself but it seems like this magnetic pull between us is so strong, we would be foolish to fight it. I know many ladies wouldn’t want to hear this but I want you! I want you real bad!’
Tolani pulled her hand away. Her heart was beating profusely. She rubbed her hands together. ‘I want you too. And I am not going to lie that it has anything to do with love. It is just physical. But I draw a line at sleeping with married men. I just wouldn’t do that. I know many people do not believe in karma but I do. As crazy as my body is acting now, I know that if I give in to it, I would be wrong on so many levels. I need to go. If I stay here longer, I will lose my resolve. I am sorry’.
Tolani got up and walked away. She wanted to look back and run into arms she was sure would make her happy, would satisfy her yearning. She walked on, wishing she could just turn back and damn the consequences! She knew that what she felt was more than sexual, that the past few weeks had made her really like him, that though she had only seen him a couple of days and had the briefest of conversations, she felt like she knew him.
She normally would have used the stairs but in her rush to get away, she made a beeline for the elevator. She had just pressed the button for her floor when Otobrise entered the elevator. The door did not finish closing when the he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
It was the best 9 months of her life. Otobrise made her happy. He was romantic, caring, an awesome talker and an oh so playful character. Their affair was a whirlwind of happy moments. The only chink in their set up was his wife. They didn’t talk about her but they didn’t ignore her either. Tolani acted like it didn’t hurt her to see him take his wife’s calls and go home to her. She didn’t ask questions because she knew Otobrise had mad feelings for her but she also knew he didn’t want to leave his wife.
He came to her house on the 13th of February with an overnight bag. She was shocked! This was their first valentine but she naturally assumed he was spending it with his wife.
‘Don’t ask. Just go with it.’ he said when she looked at his bag. She smiled and went to him.
They had the best night ever. He took her to the top of their office building where he had arranged for a chef to cook her favorite meal; pounded yam and Egusi soup. The meal was fabulous and she smiled afterwards. When they got back home, he slowly but gently made love to her. They went at it for hours and finally sated, fell asleep cuddling.
Just before she drifted off, she heard him whisper ‘I love you baby’ in her ear.
Tolani woke up to the sound of Otobrise’s phone ringing. He was sitting on the chair opposite her bed. He had this forlorn look on his face and his posture was that of dejection.
‘What is wrong baby?’ Tolani asked as she got up from the bed. She went to put her arms around him but he stopped her. She moved away and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘What is wrong?’
He fidgeted a bit and then looked at her. His eyes seemed to be begging her to hold him but his body kept screaming no!
The finality in his tone was what got to Tolani. She moved inwards and just looked at him.
‘I came here yesterday to tell you I was leaving her. I wanted to give you a memorable valentine before I proposed.’ It was at that moment Tolani saw the ring box in his hands. Her lips quivered. So did her facial muscle. She looked back at his face.
‘But she called me this morning and…Tolani, this started out as an affair for me. I just wanted to fuck. But I found you to be the perfect person for me. I love that you are intelligent, articulate and yet playful. You finish my sentences like no woman can or has ever done. This grew to be more than sex and I meant it when I said I loved you. I love you Tolani! We may have a little complication, but I want to be with you, to love you, to grow old with you, to be by your side forever. I wish I waited a few more years before getting married but I will trade all that if you are willing to stay with me. I don’t want to lose you.’
Tolani had been crying as he spoke. She covered her face with her hands, so she didn’t see when he knelt in front of her until he cupped her hands.
‘Baby, we can work this out. We can make it happen. I just need you to…’
Tolani kept shaking her head. She knew she needed to relax to be able to speak but she wasn’t going to waste time.
‘She is your wife…and she is going to have your baby. I don’t want to get into you sleeping with her because that is foolish and petty. I have been selfish. I have been foolish also. You have feelings for me that should have only been shared with your wife. I am the villain here. I am the intruder. I should never have broken my own principle just to be with you. What I did was wrong and to dare to be happy these past months was adding insult to injury.’
‘Baby, please…’ tears were running freely down his face.
‘No. let me finish. I love you like crazy and I am very sad but I have to do the right thing. I want you to go home, go to your wife and keep your family together. I don’t know if she knows about me but I want you to make it up to her; I want you to ensure she never goes through this kind of betrayal again…’
Otobrise jumped up and moved away. ‘She is not you! She doesn’t understand me. She never gets my jokes. My interests bore her. You on the other hand…you complete me! You are my happiness! Please, don’t leave me. I am no longer in love with her. You are all I want’.
Tolani went to him and put her arms around him. ‘You gave me the best few months. I want to give you the rest of your life. Truth is, there will always be someone better than your spouse, but love is about making a commitment. I love you enough to know that you love your wife. You will love your kid and some more. And I know you enough to know that you would hate me if you walk away from your family. This has to end. Sometimes, the truest manifestation of love is walking away…and that is what I am doing now. I love you so much Brise! But this relationship is over.’
Otobrise wanted to argue but the set expression on Tolani’s face told him not to. He wiped his face, gathered his stuff, took one last long look at Tolani and went out of the door.
Tolani crumpled into her bed and cried. She whispered ‘Happy Valentine Otobrise’ until she fell asleep.