Ogechi was one of the first people to make an impression on me during my first weeks at University. She wasn’t necessarily very pretty; but she was so cool, very stylish, so confident and so chic, you could describe her as beautiful. I watched how she did everything with awe.
Coming from such a sheltered place, seeing another young lady who was so independent and confident was a thrill. She didn’t just walk. She swayed. It was almost as though she had a soulful tune in her head and she swayed to that tune as she walked. Her short dresses were never just short but super short and the long ones had to be stylishly unusually so! So cool was she that at the first social, she summoned the favourite ‘crush’ of the night, another psychedelic guy called Sunny with her forefinger, and it was okay with us. To us that was whom he deserved. The goddess. None of us dared squawk. And they moved like they truly belonged together. No ‘latest’ dance steps for this cool duo. Instead they sashayed beautifully together as though previously choreographed, all night. Naturally they became an item.
Years and years later, sitting at an airport lounge with my third child. My marriage had ended and I had been in the UK for the birth and just some time away from the drama. So now I was heading back home not knowing what the future held. Scared, downcast and also elated at my newborn and my girls in my control and my freedom. I saw this overweight, obviously stressed woman with a young son and I could have see she was mumbling sadly to herself. That was what caught my attention. On closer inspection I noticed she looked very familiar and lo and behold it was Ogechi! The sight I saw so shocked me, I must admit, I had to pretend I did not recognize her. This was for fear of betraying my utter shock. In retrospect she herself feigned non-recognition of me, as I am sure she was more embarrassed than I was.
Immediately I got back to Lagos my first task was busy bodying to enquire of what became of our former super star Ogechi. As it happens I didn’t need to probe far. As it is when many look up at you there are many waiting for when you fall to gloat. Apparently she had taken up with a bad boy, Soji from a big family straight out of University. One, that on the surface of it, commanded more power by virtue of his surname than poor Sunny could. She was later to find out that in a man, self-made is always better and peaceful.
Over two decades later, I walk into a shoe shop in Manhattan, and for some reason, the set up of the shop was that when you make any enquiries regarding some shoes, they take your name and size of shoe, ask you to sit and bring you every style of shoes they have in your size! Talk about customer service, but that’s gist for another day.
There I was waiting for my turn and when my name was called, an elegantly dressed lady in nicely cropped two tone layered hair style approached me. Bright,white smile, plum, coloured lips, she looked a million dollars. ‘Yemisi?’ she asked. I didn’t need to look again before I screamed ‘Ogechi!!!!’ and we hugged ourselves like our lives depended on it. No longer burdened by our demons and trying to avoid each other, but each now in a happy place and bursting to share! Life!
Later, with my sons tucked in bed on the 7th floor of the ‘Affinia 50’ Ogechi and I talked and drank tons of red wine till early hours of the morning. I told her that after University I had expected to hear she had moved to the States and was on the big screen or to see her on the pages of some international magazine modeling some brands or that she had married some wild foreigner or something really exciting.
I felt personally let down. I wondered what went wrong.
From all accounts it seems at the time they met the guy was cool, non-conformist. It was just like her to fall for the eccentric type. It was during those cool days they apparently eloped and got married in a very stylish ceremony on some exotic Island. The problem was that we all grew up and all those things didn’t add up to responsibility. And he just refused to grow up.
Life dealt her such a blow she ran to church. He was an under achieving mummy’s boy who did no work, never passed any examinations nor completed his University degree. He drank from sunrise to sunset and had no clue how to man his home talk less of being a father to their son. She worked in a bank but was always coming home to tend to one disaster or another.
If he wasn’t sexually assaulting a nanny, he was taking drunken refuge, hiding from some barman or the other. He was useless at helping out with school runs she found out the hard way after Yomi their only son had been left uncollected from school; not once nor twice.
He was not a great companion either as he was the butt of every joke or the cause of the raised eyebrows at the gatherings as he couldn’t hold his liquor very well hence it never took so long for him to start displaying and disgracing her.
The higher she rose at work the worse his behaviour. When she lost her second pregnancy, her mother-in-law couldn’t stop talking about her obvious lack of remorse. Ogechi, meanwhile, though very sorrowful an actual life of her child was lost, was shocked as she was on more than one form of contraception to stop it happening in the first place because she was never able to fend him off when he insisted on having his way with her.
Things came to a head when the restructuring of the banks happened and her bank went under and she lost her job. Her father-in-law died about the same time and they had to move out of the large family house and get a smaller place. Her mother-in-law moved in with them. She set up a fast food business with her severance pay, but with all the bills on her she cut too many corners in running the business and it was not doing very well.
With her mother-in-law now living with them, she saw clearly how badly behaved her son was, but instead of addressing the issue she was convinced he was under some curse. Their enemies were after them and she took them to church.
Ogechi said that initially things were actually good for Soji when they started the church. It was an atmosphere where he was a local champion. No one in the church knew his antecedents and so his dressing and accent plus the name dazzled them somewhat. He was like a celebrity and they were treated as such. In that stead he wanted to prove a point and he was off the drink, he helped more around the house and with Yomi whilst she was at the shop.
The problem was that he switched addictions. His new one was the church. He was the first at ‘Morning Glory’ first prayer meeting of the day and the last to leave the night vigils. He still did not work so he had all the time for that. He was head of different sectors from the ‘Servant leaders’ to the ‘Traffic control’. As time went by he had warmed himself so much into the Pastor and Pastor’s wife’s trust that he was the head of the ‘Marriage guidance group’.
Now for this context I would just mention one of their duties. When a man or a woman in the church is attracted to the other sex, they need to pray about it. Then they notify this group, the head then prays too. If his spirit aligns with the person making the request then the church back the union and even fund the whole process. Soji as head thus was very influential.
However Ogechi found texts on his phone that confirmed that rather than praying with the parties Soji was manipulating them. Collecting money from men who wanted the women, and sleeping with the women who wanted the men. The whole scandal broke when one of the women got pregnant and the husband who suspected foul play after the child was born carried out a DNA test, confronted the wife and she confessed. Many others came after that and it turned out Soji fathered at least 3 children of unsuspecting men.
That was when Ogechi realized that she could not carry on being unhappy and then living with constant scandals. She was actually losing her mind.
We confessed at that point that we recognized each other at Heathrow Airport those many years before but just could not celebrate ourselves.
She got lucky. Her brother invited her to come to America for a vacation to clear her mind. He lived in a huge apartment block. Their American neighbour who liked everything African used to stop by often. She was a buyer for some big retail outlets. Ogechi gave her some stylish hints and when she found they worked for her she soon introduced her directly to some of those outlets as an inhouse stylist. They were difficult days but style being her passion from an early age Ogechi thrived. That day I saw her she had just succeeded in signing on a famous South African designer to one of the big stores and they had contracted her to scout for more African designers for them. She was on a roll. She was in a celebratory mood. In the process of dealing with these stores, Ogechi realized she had to work on herself first. She dumped the weight and got a new look. Ogechi got her groove back. That old even more beautiful Ogechi was back!
This morning I got an email from her inviting me on a girl’s trip to Barbados. I told her that as much as I’d love to go, I was on grandmother duties with love. But we’ll hook up later on and live life. I decided with her permission to share her story. What better way to get back after such a long break?
There are many lessons to learn from this, but the main one is this. It’s a Yoruba saying that loosely translated means ‘do not marry a man that is only good for a fling and have a fling with one who is husband material.