“I’ve never told this story to anyone before,” Tade said to Chudi and I. “Most new people we’ve met don’t ask, and Bimbo is the last person to raise the topic.”
“I’m sorry,” I put in, “I didn’t mean to pry.”
But the truth was that I had pried. Though I get by, I’m not very good at making friends. In university, I only had two close friends. The first, my girlfriend Nkechi, left the country after her youth service and we lost contact. I remained close to Chudi, my boyfriend, and after we had settled into our jobs, he ended up becoming my husband. I liked that my husband remained my true friend, but sometimes I missed having a close female confidant.
I had become a stay at home mother after having my son two years ago, and now pregnant again, most of my single and working friends had drifted away. So when he became extra close to his colleague, Tade, who also lived on our street, I tried to make Tade’s wife, Bimbo, my new best friend. But, she was even more reserved than I was, and had rebuffed all my efforts to befriend her.
“No, no, I’m glad a friend is finally taking an interest in Bimbo.” Tade replied, “I’ve done my best to be there for her since it happened, but it’s not working.”
“What happened?” Chudi asked.
“Bimbo’s best friend died in a car accident two years ago…”
“Oh no,” I breathed, my hand moving to cover my lips.
Funmilayo had been Bimbo’s childhood friend, Tade explained. They had grown up closer than sisters, spending time in each other’s houses and going to the same schools, all through primary school to university. Only during their youth service had they been apart, but they had visited each other regularly, and resumed the friendship when they both returned to Lagos. They had looked alike, with the same dark skin and a gap between their teeth.
People had sometimes asked if they were twins. It had been foregone conclusion that she would be Bimbo’s chief bridesmaid for her wedding.
“Funmilayo was taking us to the airport for our honeymoon trip when it happened.” Tade added.
“That’s terrible!” I couldn’t stop the tears that stung my eyes.
“Were you in the car too?” Chudi asked.
“It was the three of us. Funmilayo was driving.”
I was speechless. In the silence, my heart thudded in my chest. My gaze was fixed on the tears that clouded Tade’s eyes. When they spilled over, he began to speak. Their wedding had been the best day of their lives, and the reception had continued till midnight. They had been laughing on the way to the airport, and no, Funmilayo had not been drunk, she never took alcohol; a sleepy tanker driver had slipped into their lane, ramming their car into the ditch beside the express way.
Funmilayo had taken the brunt of the collision and died within hours of arriving at the hospital. Everyone had been shocked, and a massive pall had been cast over Tade and Bimbo’s relationship. Two years later, he felt his wife was still mourning her best friend, and nothing he did was enough, and not even their families, or any new person had been able to crack her sorrow. He begged me to keep trying.
After Tade left, I confessed to Chudi that I didn’t know what to do next. My need for a simple friend paled in the face of Bimbo’s story. I knew there was no way I could hope to replace her dead best friend.
“You don’t have to replace Funmilayo, just be there for Bimbo.”
So over the next few months, I continued to try to get closer to her. I did not tell her what Tade had revealed to us. But God works in mysterious ways.
Bimbo ran a tailoring shop and I was in her shop in Ikeja one day when my stomach cramped, and cramped hard. It had been doing that for a few days but I had assumed it was nothing serious. This time, it gripped the whole of my lower abdomen and kicked me in the back. I doubled up, gasping, clutching my belly.
“Madam!” one of the girls called, jerking off her padded seat towards me.
“What is it?” Bimbo was at my side immediately. “Do you want me to call Chudi?”
“He won’t make it in time from VI. I have to get to the hospital as soon as possible. My car is here, can you drive?”
Bimbo backed away and I glimpsed the fear in her eyes. I wondered if this would be her first time driving a car since the accident that claimed her friend.
“Please,” I moaned as another cramp followed the first. I was past caring about her distress, mine was a looming cloud.
Bimbo finally nodded, and two of her apprentices helped me to the car. I noticed Bimbo hesitate before she took the wheel and started the car. As I opened my mouth to speak, another cramp gripped me.
The next minutes passed in a blur. The cramps were coming in about ten minute intervals, as if I was in labor. I feared that I was about to lose my four months pregnancy. None of the following cramps were as bad as the first, but still I panted as Bimbo drove to the popular private hospital near our street. There, she half-carried me into reception and harried the nurses till they called a doctor to see me immediately. I looked at her after another contraction had passed and saw the tears in her eyes.
“I called and spoke to your husband. He said he’ll be here soon.”
“Thanks,” I whispered. “I’m sorry to have put you through so much trouble.”
To my surprise, Bimbo burst into tears. The doctor called us in before I could ask her what was wrong. It turned out I could be having a miscarriage as I had feared. The doctor was hopeful that coming to the hospital so quickly may have saved the baby, and after taking some blood for tests, recommended some days of bed rest until we were sure. I was given a bed in the female ward and in a few minutes; I was lying on it with Bimbo sitting beside me.
She had quickly wiped away her tears as we went into the consulting room, but they were streaming again. She kept saying she was sorry.
“What is it, Bimbo?” I finally asked.
“I was so scared,” she cried, “I was scared I wouldn’t be able to drive the car, and I was scared you would die. I couldn’t have borne it. Not again.”
The story fell from her in torrents. She told me much more about Funmilayo, and about the accident. She had a lot of guilt about Funmilayo’s death, and believed that if she hadn’t asked her to drive them to the airport; her friend would still be alive. She had never really forgiven herself. Each day she was alive felt like a betrayal; how could she go on living when Funmilayo was dead? How could she be happy with her husband, and laugh and smile, like everything was normal?
I held her hands, silent. The usual platitudes were totally inadequate. I only hoped that she would be relieved by talking about it. Her next words took me by surprise.
“I’m pregnant too.”
She nodded. “Two months since my last period. I haven’t told anyone yet, not even Tade. I want to be happy about it, but then I would feel like a monster. I didn’t feel I deserved any happiness after Funmilayo’s death.” She looked directly into my eyes, “But, it’s become so clear to me now. I can’t live half a life; I have to give it my all. What if I had forgotten how to drive, or had frozen up? You could have miscarried, or worse, died.”
“But, I’m fine.”
Bimbo wiped an arm under her streaming nose. “Yes, and these are tears of joy and relief. I now accept that Funmilayo wouldn’t have wanted me to die, or be sad forever. She was the happiest person I ever knew, always laughing.” Bimbo’s gaze was lost somewhere in the past.
“Bimbo,” I called after a while.
Bimbo sighed and shook her head. “I’m here,” she said, “I’m alive, and there’s a better way to live this life left to me. I have to be fully here for everyone, for Tade, and for my baby.”
She was smiling by then, and my own lips were stretching from ear to ear.
I stayed in the hospital for two weeks, and Bimbo came to see me every day. My baby survived and with each day that passed, I watched Bimbo transform into a totally different person before my eyes. Without any prompting, she would tell me a little more about Funmilayo, and the many things they had done together.
Bimbo had a bouncing baby girl last week and she’s the prettiest baby you ever saw. Yesterday, we named her Funmilayo.
Photo Credit: askmissa.com