Hi y’all. Betty here. The Alchemist has written Philophobia and yes, that’s your cue to get excited. He’s a wonderful wonderful friend and writer, and I hope this story stuns you with its quiet intensity as it did me.. Enjoy. *** You’d already had several drinks with him when Feyi told you he loved you. You were…
Hi y’all. Betty here. The Alchemist has written Philophobia and yes, that’s your cue to get excited.
He’s a wonderful wonderful friend and writer, and I hope this story stuns you with its quiet intensity as it did me..
You’d already had several drinks with him when Feyi told you he loved you.
You were sitting beside each other in the eldritch, neon glow of the impiana bar and had been talking about everything and nothing for over three hours. It was only when your free-flowing idle talk had lapsed into an unexpected, uncharacteristic and unnerving silence that he snuck those three words in, like an assassin slipping his blade between your ribs and cleaving the essence of you.
You pretended not to hear him. You knew that if you acknowledged his declaration, you would have to deal with it, consider it, and perhaps even react to it. But you did not want to deal with, consider or react to anything at the time. Especially not love. Definitely not love.
“I love you, Ose.”
You made a moue, annoyed that he’d repeated it. And appended your name onto it no less, marking it as yours, binding this unwanted declaration to you as with a hot brand pressed onto flesh. There was no escape then. You knew you would have to deal with the situation in the least confrontational way possible. Perhaps, you thought feebly, a subtle deflection would do the trick. You looked into his big wet brown eyes, taking in the uneven curve of his nose, the soft line of his lips and his thin but well groomed moustache on your way before saying the least confrontational thing you could think of at the time.
“That’s nice. You’re a great guy.”
Feyi placed his glass down on the recently buffed wood of the bar and hunched over. He was crestfallen, you could tell.
“I see. But you don’t love me.”
You were not sure what to say and so you tried to smile. It came out clumsily displayed on your face, a meaningless straining of facial muscle. You couldn’t tell at the time but you looked like a wax copy of yourself – something people would pay good money to see in Madame Tussaud’s if you were famous, or a taxidermic reproduction of you – the kind of thing that would hang, garish and vaguely beautiful, on a murderer’s trophy wall if you ever fell victim to a particular class of psychopath.
“You’re great Feyi and…”
“Please don’t do that Ose, please, just tell me how you feel.”
“I… I… I don’t know how I feel about you.”
You regretted saying it the moment it left your lips because it was not true. That was when you decided that you needed another drink. The evening was quickly becoming stressful. You had come to the impiana with Feyi precisely because you did not want stress. You did not want to worry. You did not want to think. About Nonso and his cheating ways. About your boss Kemi, and her overt disdain for you. About your mother’s illness. About all your missed opportunities. You just wanted to skinny dip in the shallow pool of tequila, banalities and pointless conversation until you ran out of breath and sank slowly to the bottom where blissful oblivion waited.
“I’m sorry. I need another Margarita.”
You raised your delicate left hand and the bartender slid over to where you were seated, wearing a yellow shirt that was one size too small and hiding behind a chequered waistcoat. You thought he might have been handsome, but you couldn’t see past the hideous outfit, the uniform of his trade.
He took your order and you turned back to Feyi, a little more confident since you knew your drink was coming.
“Ami, look, we’ve been friends for years. I’ve seen you date and break up with guys that don’t deserve you, that treat you like shit. I’ve always been here, always had my arms open. Never been anything but loving and caring towards you because I knew, deep down, that you knew better. That you would eventually see that what we have is special. I love you and I always have and I want nothing more in the world than to make you happy. That’s all I’m…”
“What do you mean no?”
“No. No. No.” You kept repeating it, hoping that if you said it enough times, you would convince yourself it was the right thing to say.
“We have something special but I just can’t be with you that way Feyi. I can’t.”
It wasn’t true. Not really. You could. You just did not want to and you could not admit the reason to yourself.
Feyi went silent and stayed that way. His mouth kept making strange motions, little tics and quivers. You knew he wanted desperately to say something, to make his case more eloquently but he couldn’t. He just nursed his drink pensively. There was as much one could say in response to three solid “No’s” as one could say to stop the pain from three gunshots to the chest.
You knew he was hurt deeply but you couldn’t try to comfort him, you could not be both ailment and remedy. It was a contradiction no one could emotionally reconcile. Not even Feyi. And so you finished your drink when it came and Feyi paid the bill when it came and you both left the low comforting glow of the impiana for the skulking shadows of Lagos night, driving towards Ajah; all this in an uncomfortable, festering silence.
You’d been on the road for almost thirty minutes when it happened.
The shadows and bushes that flanked the Lekki expressway suddenly and unexpectedly gave birth to a child carrying pieces of wood on her head. You could tell by the suddenness with which he stomped on the brakes and swung the wheel sharply left to avoid hitting her, that her appearance had startled Feyi. You could also tell he’d lost control.
After that sudden swerve, the vehicle was being driven more by momentum than anything else. It barrelled off-road, down the sandy central reservation that separated the two carriageways and onto oncoming traffic on the wrong side. You’d screamed for the blood of Jesus because that is what you were supposed to do in such situations.
You saw the outline of the trailer charging towards your out-of-control car, just a moment before it blinded you and Feyi with the glare of its powerful headlights. You heard its driver honk wildly, trying to convince Feyi’s car to get out of the way. But even in that cocoon of overpowering light and sound, you knew there was nothing any of you could do to stop the ineluctable.
When the crash came, crunching metal around you and jarring your body in a thousand different ways your mind could not process, you were sure you would die.
You did not die.
You woke up in a stark white hospital with the smell of disinfectant in your nose and a blinding fluorescent light in your eyes. Your mind was swimming in a nebulous abstraction of sensory input: memories, pressure, visions, drugs, thoughts, feelings, pain. So much pain. You tried to turn your head but you could not because your neck was encased almost completely in a cervical collar and your head kept in place by a gallery of iron rods and screws that you would later think looked a lot like Roman pillars supporting an important historical landmark.
A chubby face blotted the lights in front of your eyes and you found yourself staring at a nurse. She had such delicate features that you were sure at once there was no pretence about her, no arrogance that seemed to be the burden of medical professionals, just a desire to help and be kind to those who needed her to be so. And believing this instant impression to be true, you asked her where you were.
That was when she told you that you were in St. Nicolas’s hospital, recovering from several fractures, lacerations and a minor spinal injury. She assured you that you would be fine eventually and you believed her. She said it could have been much worse and you knew she spoke true. But when she told you that the reason you survived was because your ‘boyfriend’ had removed his seatbelt and jumped in front of you just before the trailer slammed into your vehicle, taking most of the impact from the crash, you started to cry, the tears falling from your eyes like rain on a Monday morning. And despite the kind nurse with the gentle features’ entreaties and queries, you could neither stop the cascading tears nor tell her why the tears were coming because you did not really know yourself.
Perhaps you cried because Feyi was not your boyfriend even though he could have been.
Perhaps you cried because you’d always known that Feyi loved you with an intensity you could not comprehend.
Perhaps you cried because you knew that if you had let him love you, it would have changed you, forced you let go of all that you had clung to for so long.
Perhaps you cried because you knew, even though the nice nurse with the soft features hadn’t said so, that Feyi was dead.
You knew with all the certainty of breath and death that Feyi had died for you. You knew then, just as you know now, all these years after, that Feyi’s oft expressed but barely spoken of love would always haunt you. You knew that Feyi’s love was the truest, strangest, most honest thing you had ever experienced and it had frightened you, so much so that you fled from it.
And so you did the only thing you could do then, you continued to cry and cry and cry until worried doctors came carrying blissful oblivion in their injections and you could cry no more.