This wasn’t supposed to happen. She wasn’t supposed to find out. This isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve had several affairs with married men in the past, and never before have we been found out. We cover our tracks carefully. We regularly delete our chat history, we are highly professional in public, we don’t meet in bars or hotels.
She knows. It’s over.
I felt the ground crumble away beneath me as I read Gbenga’s Whatsapp message. Just 4 words, and my entire world had shattered in an instant.
F*ck. What does she know?! came my frantic response.
I felt another blow to my gut. I thought I was going to throw up. Yasmin looked over at me, concerned. “Rukia, are you ok? You look really ill!”
“Yeah, I’m not feeling so good. I think I’ll head out early.”
In a daze, I gathered up my things, made my excuses and left the office. In the quiet twilight of the underground parking lot, I laid my head on the steering wheel and let it sink in. Gbenga’s wife had found out about us. It was over. A stream of questions ran through my mind: How had she found out? What did Gbenga mean by ‘everything’? Did his wife know I was the one he was cheating with? Would she confront me? How the hell was I going to survive this if everyone found out? Would my friends start keeping their husbands away from me?
“Madam! Hope say everything dey alright?” It was one of the security guards.
With a heavy sigh I straightened up, flashed him what I hoped was a winning smile and drove out of the lot. As I took the Ikoyi link bridge route home, I reminisced about how it all started.
Gbenga and I met soon after I joined the ad agency, at an office party. We were supposed to be celebrating someone’s promotion. Me being the newbie and wallflower that I am, I hung around alone, cradling my drink, lost in my thoughts and not speaking to anyone. When the snacks came out, I promptly positioned myself by the food table and selected a packet of plantain chips. That packet must have been sealed by the devil though, because it resisted all my efforts to open it. Exasperated, I looked up from the stubborn packet to glare at everyone and no-one in particular. That was when I noticed someone halfway across the room, openly staring at me. He was just above average height, dark skinned and lean, with broad shoulders. A single dimple appeared on his left cheek as he smiled, and even from that distance I could see a twinkle in his eye behind his horn-rimmed glasses. He raised a questioning brow. Did I need help, said the eyebrow. In response I stubbornly dropped my gaze back to the plantain chips and continued my struggle.
A few moments later, I felt someone tug the packet away. He ripped it open far too easily and handed it back to me. I begrudgingly thanked him for his unsolicited assistance.
“I didn’t ask for help though. Why did you come over?”
“Well, to be honest you just seemed to have this damsel-in-distress thing about you. Standing there all by yourself, desperately hungry and defeated by ordinary plantain chips. Being the gentleman I am, I just had to help you out.” He said this with a mischievous grin on his handsomely bearded face, and I couldn’t help feeling that he was mocking me. Irritated, I scowled and walked away.
After that first encounter I decided that I found Gbenga cocky and vaguely annoying; I was thankful that we were not in the same department. He was an art director, while I had joined the client service team as a junior account executive. But as fate would have it, soon after the party we were assigned to the same brief. During the project kickoff meeting, I stared at the projector screen the entire time, determined not to catch his eye. After we wrapped up, he came up to me.
“We meet again. Rukia, is it?”
“Yes. And you are?”
“Gbenga. Captain Plantain Chips.” He chuckled. “Looks like we’re going to be working together.”
I sighed. “Yep.”
And so we did. And in spite of myself, I quickly realised that Gbenga and I worked really well together. We understood each other perfectly – it was like our brainwaves operated on the same frequency. His laid-back, creative vibe complemented my pragmatic, get-shit-done approach, so that he would have an idea, and I would immediately figure out how to make it happen exactly as he pictured it. We played off each other’s energies so well that even though this was a really demanding client, we actually had fun on the project. I discovered that we had a lot in common, not the least being our off-colour sense of humour. In between work emails, we would share jokes and exchange barbs over Whatsapp. (Whatsapp for Desktop is the devil, by the way) Gbenga teased me mercilessly, and I gave as good as I got.
Behind the good natured ribbing and camaraderie, a solid friendship was growing. Gbenga was so easy to talk to that the mental walls I had initially put up crumbled into dust. I found myself confiding in him more and more, and in spite of his annoying cockiness, I grew fond of him. He was witty and well-read, and we would have incredibly stimulating conversations about every subject under the sun. We were both opinionated, and even though our views sometimes clashed, we were quite open to being challenged. Strong opinions and open mindedness gave birth to spirited debates that were also good natured and thoroughly enjoyable. Best of all, he made me laugh constantly.
“So are you coming to Shaunz later or not?” Yasmin wanted to know. “Don’t worry, Gbenga is coming,” she added.
I shot her a look. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“The two of you are like 5 and 6 na, always together. So I assumed if he’s going then you’ll be going too.”
I rolled my eyes. “Really? We’re not always together.”
“Actually you are. It’s kind of annoying actually. He stole my bestie from me.”
I gave Yasmin a big bear hug. “Come on, don’t say that! You know you’re my one true love.”
Yasmin was right though. Gbenga and I had become inseparable. After that first assignment, we angled to be placed on the same projects so that we could continue to work together. And when we weren’t working together, we were grabbing lunch or chatting on WhatsApp. After work, the conversations continued. He was the last person I spoke to before I went to bed, and I often woke up to a message from him. I told myself that we were just friends, but the truth was that I had caught feelings. Hard.
I couldn’t be sure that Gbenga felt the same way, but what I did know was that there was physical attraction developing between us. At first it danced around the edges of our friendship, in the form of flirtatious glances and suggestive comments, but slowly and surely it escalated, particularly when we were alone. As a rule, I didn’t meet with Gbenga outside of work – Lagos is too small to be taking such risks. But we took advantage of our lunch breaks to hang out outside the office. It was during one of these lunches that the tension went into overdrive.
I looked particularly good that day. I was wearing my favourite pencil skirt – the one that perfectly accentuated my hips. Gbenga was seated across from me in our usual corner of the restaurant. When I got up to get some extra napkins from the counter, I could sense that he was checking me out. I came back to the table and we continued our conversation. You could cut the tension with a knife, but I decided to feign ignorance. Done with lunch, we got into his car to head back to the office. Giggling at some funny comment he’d made, I touched his arm and looked into his eyes. I saw something in there that I had seen too many times not to recognise it: a reckless hunger. I held his gaze for a second longer than usual, and then broke it casually. We chatted normally during the drive to the office, as though nothing had happened. But as we entered the parking lot, Gbenga checked his watch and said, “Lunch break isn’t over yet, we have 15 minutes left. Meet me on the 4th floor.”
I turned to shoot him a quizzical look, but he was already gone. I sat in the car for a minute to take stock of what I was feeling. My heart was racing. Clearly, Gbenga was gearing up to cross a line. I was madly attracted to him, but he was married. The fact that he was in the habit of not wearing his ring did nothing to change that. Did I want to get involved with yet another married man? One that I had caught feelings for? The internal debate didn’t last long though. I locked the car and headed upstairs.
After that first time, we quickly developed a new lunchtime routine. At noon every Wednesday, I would go up to the disused bathroom on the abandoned 4th floor and wait for Gbenga. A few minutes later he would meet me there, and we would fool around…
Bzzzzzz! My vibrating phone drags me out of my reverie and back to the present. It’s a message from Gbenga.
Rukia. She is in so much pain. I don’t know how I’m going to fix this, but I have to. I can’t lose her, it would kill me. I have to do everything it takes to regain her trust. I’m sorry but we can’t be friends anymore. I have to delete your number. From now on, we are just colleagues. Please delete my number and don’t reply this.
I read the message over and over again, refusing to believe it. Several times, I start typing a reply, and each time I delete it. I can’t find the words to respond. Gbenga had the gall to end our relationship with a Whatsapp message? Did any of it mean anything to him? I’m not sure what exactly I expected to happen, but this is definitely not it. What is this pain that I’m feeling, this ache in my chest? Is this what they call heartbreak?
This wasn’t supposed to happen, I keep saying to myself, over and over. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She wasn’t supposed to find out. This isn’t my first rodeo; I’ve had several affairs with married men in the past, and never before have we been found out. We cover our tracks carefully. We regularly delete our chat history, we are highly professional in public, we don’t meet in bars or hotels. But somehow, this time we fucked up. We were just not careful enough, and now I’ve lost a lover and a friend. My lover’s wife is devastated by the betrayal, and he’s scrambling to put his marriage back together. It’s a bloody train wreck, and we are all casualties.
I spend the next ten minutes scrolling through my contacts, anxious to find someone I can talk to. My best friend, Tolu, is a newlywed. Pretty sure I will get no sympathy from her. Yasmin, my office ‘bestie’? Can’t be sure she won’t blab. There is no way I’m going to risk everyone at work finding out. My elder sister? She just won’t understand. Younger brother? Not in a million years. And on and on, until I come to the end of the list. Damn. I can’t find a single person I can trust to talk to about what I’m going through. But if I don’t talk to someone and get out of my own head, I’m quite sure I will run mad. So I switch on my laptop and write a post for TNC. Maybe someone out there will understand.
Maybe someone out there will help me figure out how to pick up the pieces of my life and get through this clusterfuck. Gbenga’s rejection has broken me, dragging all my issues with low self esteem and social anxiety back to the surface. Did he ever feel anything for me at all? Why was it so easy for him to end it, and via WhatsApp for that matter? Is there any hope of us ever being friends again? I wish everything would just go back to normal. He’s such a central part of my life now that I can’t picture moving forward without him. Besides, how can I handle seeing Gbenga in the office every day, after everything that’s happened? I’m seriously considering quitting my job.
And on top of the heartbreak there is all this guilt I’m feeling over the affair. If I’m this heartbroken, his wife must be going through ten times worse. I wonder whether I should apologise to her. My mind is such a mess. What should I do?