“Mummy, tell me the story of the red thread.”
It was bed time, but little Ose was far from tired. Burrowing deeper under the covers, she made room for her mother to get into bed with her. Not one to say no to anything Ose asked for, the very tired mother got into bed with her daughter.
“In ancient Japan,” her mother began, “walking home one night, a little boy came across an old man reading a book. He asked him what the book was about and the old man responded that it was a book of marriages. He told the boy that he, the young boy, was destined to marry one girl. When the old man showed the young boy the girl he would marry, the young boy, who didn’t want to get married, threw a rock at her and ran away as fast as he could.
“Years later, a marriage was arranged between the boy and one of the most beautiful girls in the village, but when he unveiled her, he noticed his wife to be had a small scar over her eyebrow. When he asked her about it, she told him that a small boy had thrown a rock at her as a child.”
“Mummy,” cried Ose interrupting her mother’s story. “How did the old man know the little boy was really going to marry that little girl?”
“Well,” replied her mother, “it was because of the red thread. You see darling, in Eastern Asia, it is believed that when we are born, the gods tie an invisible red thread round our ankles and at the end of this thread is our soul mate, our twin flame and no matter how far we go. This red thread cannot break and as we age. The thread grows tighter and tighter with each passing year, bringing us closer and closer to our one true love.
“The Japanese believe that this thread is tied around the pinky and not the ankle, hence the phrase “pinky swear.” At this, Ose giggled as it was a game she and her mother used to make and keep promises to each other. Kissing her forehead gently, her mother continued “no matter how near or far you are from that person, the thread remains and nothing can affect the thread that binds the fateful lovers together.
“So mummy, is it destiny?” Asked a wide eyed Ose.
“Funny you should say that,” replied her mother. “The Chinese who also believe in this, believe that there is a deity in charge of the red thread called Yue Xia Lao who is also in charge of marriages.”
Her mother’s pronunciation of the name made Ose laugh out loud. The sound of her daughter laughing warmed her heart. It was an innocent laugh not yet tainted by the worries of the world. She didn’t have the heart to tell her daughter that true love didn’t exist, at least not in her world, because after trusting and daring to love the man who would end up fathering Ose and causing her a world of pain, she had come to the conclusion that love or true love wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Brought back to reality by the sound of Ose yawning, she bent yet again to kiss her pride and joy with Ose winding her arms around her mother’s neck and kissing her back.
“Mummy do I have a red thread friend as well?”
Her mother laughed at the innocent interpretation and answered, “of course you do honey, and when the time is right, you will find each other.”
Ose smiled as she drifted off to sleep, happy as could be. Her mum stood for a moment watching her beautiful child breathe. With a sad shake of her head, mama Ose left the room now filled with dreams of the red thread.
Years after the telling of red thread, Ose would grow into a fine, young and capable woman, much to the happiness of her mother whom the years hadn’t been kind to. She had basically broken her back to ensure that Ose had as much as any child could wish or want and Ose had not failed her mother’s effort. Ose blazed a fiery trail through school, emerging top of her class even at university. NYSC was a breeze as fate seemed to smile on Ose—probably in compensation for all her dear mother had passed through for her sake. A serendipitous happening saw her posted to a multinational oil servicing company and Ose had found her pot of gold, which she whole heartedly shared with her mother. Now it was her turn to care for her mother, providing everything her mother needed even though she was just a youth corper.
With hope of being retained after her service year, Ose diligently went about her duties, earning the admiration and praise of all who worked with her. There was just one person who wasn’t quite taken with her: Leke. Nothing she did was ever right. Letters always had to be rewritten, documents sorted over and over again, even phone calls and follow up calls, because nothing she did was ever properly done in his estimation.
One day, Leke berated her so badly she ran from his office tears with streaming from her face and as was always the case. She called her mother while hiding in the toilet and poured out her heart to her.
“Mama, I do not know why he hates me. Ever since I got here, it is always one thing or the other.”
“My jewel” began her mother using the pet name that Ose loved to hear. “Has there ever been anything you haven’t surmounted?”
Ose sniffed out a no.
“Ehen,” continued her mother. “Oya, remember that time when that yeye lecturer said you would not pass his class if you did not sleep with him. Didn’t you come up with a way to get him caught and fired for what he had tried to do?”
Ose sniffed out a rather pitiful yes.
Her mother’s tone went up a notch. “Then who is this yeye small fry to reduce you to tears? My daughter, for you, who have faced bigger obstacles than this, to run away and hide in the toilet? I didn’t raise you like that. Oya, find a way.”
Bolstered by her mother’s words, Ose said the one thing she always said to her mother “mama, do you know that you are amazing?”
As always, her mother’s quick response was, “I know.” Laughing, Ose cut the call and went back to work determined to crack the nut that was Leke.
Two days after the teary debacle, Ose arrived work early to avoid being penalized by the ogre Leke. She was mildly surprised when Leke walked in after her. Smiling inwardly at coming in before him, she brightly called out “good morning Leke.”
He looked at her with a scowl on his face and breezed past without answering, which didn’t faze Ose in the least.
An hour later her intercom buzzed. She raced to Leke’s office, determined not to give him room to complain about anything. Entering his office a little out of breath, she stood waiting for him to offer her a seat. Instead, he talked to her as she stood, barking instructions and orders as if she were his domestic staff, while she stood writing down all he had to say and answering the questions he put forth to her.
“Suddenly,” he said, “it is obvious you are having trouble writing all this down. You do know that is why tables and chairs were invented for comfort.” He said this while looking at her as if she were somewhat slow or retarded and Ose saw red.
“Leke sir, with all due respect, I take exception to the way you have been treating me. You speak to me like I am sub human or something. I have run through events trying to decipher where I went wrong with you and seeing as I cannot find anything I may or may not have done to offend you, I am of the belief that you do not like me for personal reasons so I am done jumping through hoops to please you. I intend to put in a request for transfer to another department so you can be happy.”
The look of shock on his stupid face was worth every drop of venom she had managed to infuse in her tirade and with that, she turned on her heels and left his office. Shaking at her desk, she couldn’t believe what she had just done. Tears of frustration welled up her eyes as she mentally kissed goodbye to ever being retained by the company. All because of that devil Leke. All because of that God-forsaken fellow. She suddenly felt like vomiting. How was she going to take care of her mother now she had gone and done the complete opposite of what she and her mother had agreed to? At this disheartening thought, she buried her head in her hands and wept. Then, the intercom buzzed.
Slowly raising her head, she let it go on buzzing certain that it was the admin manager calling to say “get your stuff and leave” so she decided to delay the inevitable by not answering. The buzzing stopped but not the thudding of Ose’s heart. Within minutes of the buzzer stopping, she heard footfalls and braced herself for the news she had been dreading however, instead of the admin manager, Leke stood before her in his navy blue suit and black tie. He cut a very fine picture and could pass for a hotter version of Mofe Duncan. Pity he was an asshole she thought as she looked at him eyes defiant.
“Come to my office I need to speak to you.” And then he added “Please.”
It was as if a gunshot had been fired because Leke was never ever polite. Ose was so surprised that she actually stood and followed him back to his office.
“I want to apologize for the awful way I have been treating you,” he began, gesturing that she seat down.
Ose did a double take. Was she dreaming? Maybe she had fallen asleep at her desk and this wasn’t real, so she pinched herself as she sat down. Seemed real enough, she thought, when she felt the pain of the pinch shoot through her arm. She silently regarded Leke.
“I have been under so much pressure and I guess I took it out on you.” Ose still said nothing so Leke hurried on. “To make up for this, would you allow me buy you dinner?”
At this, Ose broke free of her trance and said a little too loudly. ”No.”
Of course, it wasn’t much of a surprise to Leke, but being a man who always got his way one way or another, he insisted until he wore her down. Ose finally agreed to an early dinner with him.
The rest of the day passed in a blur as she couldn’t believe she hadn’t been fired. This was one story she wasn’t going to tell her mother, because her mother would have been appalled at her behavior. With one hour left to closing, she busied herself with work as she waited for her dreaded early dinner with the ogre Leke.
The restaurant he chose was quite classy and the food divine. Not used to eating such gourmet meals, she had ordered the most exotic thing on the menu. Lamb steak served with sautéed shallots, wild rice and a red wine jus. For dessert, a strawberry cheese cake. When the food came, it was all Ose could do to not stand and dance at the sight of the meal. Her mouth watered and she thanked her lucky stars that she had said yes to the outing.
Dinner done, Leke ordered a nice bottle of merlot which for Ose was the first time she would taste red wine or any wine for that matter. Maybe it was the wine but Ose fancied herself on a date. The ambiance, the food, the wine…everything seemed just right for a first date then she remembered who she was out with and the thought popped like a balloon.
“Ose, I can’t stress how sorry I am at the way I behaved towards you. I know its only dinner but I hope somehow, it’s been able to rid you of my sour behavior. Ose smiled and shrugged. Indeed, everything was A-okay.
After that, work became quite easier with Leke being less and less of an ogre and more humane to the point of being quite friendly with Ose. He often choose to buy her lunch around the office, and made small talk with her about everyday things. They soon became good friends, so much so that Leke soon began dropping Ose off at her place.
One Friday evening after work, she had dared to invite him into the corpers lodge, which the company provided for: a studio flat, popularly called a self-contained. He had obliged and when she offered him her meager eba with okra soup, he ate with such relish, surprised that she had cooked his favorite soup. In no hurry to leave, being the start of the weekend, they gisted about anything that came to mind. Ose admitted having a ball working at such a prestigious place and let it slip that she was happy that she could now afford to buy her mother certain things. At this admission, Leke became quiet.
“What is it?” Ose asked suddenly uncomfortable under his scrutiny.
“You are so much like her. So very much that I cannot stand it.”
“Like who?” A confused Ose asked and Leke abruptly stood up and left.
For some reason, Ose felt very hurt at what had transpired. Who was this her Leke referred to? This was the singular thought that plagued her till she fell asleep.
The dream began as it always had since she was a little girl. She and a young man whose face she could never quite see, holding hands as they walked, but there was always another woman following them at a distance.
“You know that I will always love only you,” the dream man said to her.
“And what about her,” she asked, nodding while crying.
At this point the woman would hurried along, almost closing the gap between the two lovers. “Kiss me so I will always remember you,” he said. “I will never forget your kisses and I will find you.” The kiss was soft as their lips met. It was a kiss that embodied their hearts and souls and just as it deepened, the other woman pulled then apart and him from her grasp. Only then did Ose wake up.
She sat up in the dark, touching her lips. The kiss had felt so real this time around. With the others, the moment was always fleeting, but this time, the pressure on her lips had been so real. It had been a long while since she had had that dream so, why now? She had often wondered at the strange reoccurrence of said dream, which perplexed even her mother who had once jokingly referred to the dream man as her red thread friend. The sound of her alarm buzzing saw her dashing to get ready for work. The dream firmly out of mind.
At work, Leke did his best to avoid her. He barely acknowledged her greeting and spent a better part of the day doing his errands himself. Whenever her buzzer went off, she leapt at it in the hopes that it was Leke but it was never him. For the whole day, not a word came from Leke and for some reason, Ose felt wounded by this.
For the first time, Leke’s lunch packs, which he made sure to get her, never arrived and feeling hurt she went to the toilet to have a good cry. Facing the mirror, she wondered aloud why she was even feeling the way she felt. It wasn’t as if he was her boyfriend, so why was she so offended by his behavior? “Because,” came a still small voice, “you have gone and fallen in love with Leke the ogre.” She shuddered at the thought. Oh no.
Days morphed into weeks and then months with Leke still keeping his distance. Ose learnt how to move on without him and soon things returned to normal. Well, as normal as normal could be. With two months left on her service year, Ose focused her attention on getting retained by the company. She spoke to her mum every week and they both had high hopes for Ose’s future with the company, but somehow, her mother sensed all was not well with her daughter. Ose always managed to fool her mother by lying that life was great. She couldn’t risk telling her mum that her heart burned for some man, as that would have sent her mother round the bend. Love never favoured her mother, so she kept quiet and nursed her wounds alone. That was until Emeka showed up.
Emeka was a funny, eccentric, good looking young man who always made her laugh and soon, he became the one bright spark in Ose’s life. They would go to lunch together, attend events together in short, they were inseparable that soon the whole office knew about them even Leke who never hid the fact that he despised Emeka.
One day during lunch, Emeka had come over to Ose’s department to keep her company and share lunch with her. His timing couldn’t have been more wrong because, at that very moment, Leke had chosen to walk by and had seen the two of them so cozy.
“Don’t you have anything better to do than chase women Emeka? You do realize that this is a place of work and not a brothel?”
When he spat the words brothel, he had looked directly at Ose who grew red with rage. Emeka then stood up to apologize when Ose interrupted him by saying to Leke, “well at least Emeka isn’t afraid to go after what he wants, unlike some childish people I have had the displeasure of knowing.”
The penny dropped for Emeka in that instant as it was clear that there was some unspoken history between the two of them. He silently walked away. Leke turned to go back to his office, but Ose, clearly livid and beyond reasoning, followed him to his office.
“What was the meaning of that Leke?” She fired. “How dare you embarrass my guest.”
“Your guest?” Leke sardonically smiled. “You think you are in your father’s house where every Tom, Dick and Harry is welcome.”
The slap was like a tyre bursting. It all happened so fast Ose couldn’t stop herself. They both stood shocked at what had happened.
“You slapped me?” Leke asked, utterly shocked. He lunged at her. Ose turned to flee, certain that Leke would kill her, but she wasn’t fast enough. Just before she reached the door, he caught up with her, firmly in his grip then turned her around to face him.
“Let go of me you monster,” she squirmed fighting to break free but he wouldn’t let go. “I said let me go.” Instead, he pinned her against the door with a jarring thud. Both breathing heavily from all the struggling when suddenly, he bent his head and kissed her. Holding her hands above her head, he kissed her and all the struggle left her body. Sensing it, Leke let go of her arms and drew her closer to himself melding their bodies together. A low moan escaped her as her arms wrapped around his neck drawing him in even closer. They were like wild animals as they sought to slake the thirst they both had for each other.
By the time they broke apart, Leke’s arousal was evident that he had to sit down to hide it. “Why now? Why now?” Ose queried as she too fought for composure trying to arrange her disheveled clothing.
“Because I couldn’t stand to see you with another man. No matter how much you reminded me of her, I couldn’t stomach you being with any other man but me.”
She glared at him eyes flashing. “Leke, who is this woman you keep comparing me to? You do realize that I am me and that I haven’t done anything to hurt you?”
He was quiet and then responded, “I know, but that woman hurt me so badly. A woman I gave my all and in the end, I caught her in bed with my cousin. It would have been better if she had stolen all my money but to do what she did, I swore I would never forgive her then, you came along and brought all the memories back. That was why I treated you so poorly. I guess in a way, I was getting back at her by being mean to you.” At this statement, he got up, coming round to where she sat. “Can you ever forgive me Ose? Can we pretend all this never happened?” He looked into her eyes.
That was over a year ago. Today, Ose is preparing for her wedding. The native law and custom were done the day before with Ose’s mum standing as both mother and father. Her relatives had kicked against it but Ose had put her foot down. Where had they all been when her mother had suffered and labored for her? They shut up and let Ose have her way.
The proud mother sat among the crowd, watching her daughter stand beside her husband to be. The priest asked if there was anyone present to object to the wedding and not a soul had risen. When it was time for the presentation of the rings, the priest said that the groom had a rather unusual request, which intrigued the guests, whose eyes now followed the little page boy who had gotten up with the pillow housing the rings. Instead of rings nesting on the pillow, there was a red thread nestled on the pillow. Taking one end of the red thread and tying it to Ose’s pinky finger, Leke quoted the words made famous by Rumi: “The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind I was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”
Ose burst into tears as she took one end of the red thread and tied it to Leke’s pinky. She had finally found her red thread friend.