The first story is a contemporary romance titled, A BOUQUET OF PROMISES. That’s all I can tell you. You’ll have to read the story for the rest. 🙂
A BOUQUET OF PROMISES
There was one thing that annoyed Motunrayo more than anything else: people forgetting her birthday. And by “people,” she meant Folarin.
In their three years of dating, he never remembered her birthday.
The day always slipped by quietly without any special celebration. For days after, she would give him the silent treatment. Eventually, she would forgive him and move on. Until the next birthday.
Even her roommate, Cynthia weighed in on the matter.
“It’s like this your Folarin is a serious miser o! Or he’s just an unserious guy. Na wetin? No calls, no texts, not even ordinary Coke or Malt to say ‘Happy Birthday.’ And he calls himself your boyfriend! I no want dat kain boyfriend o.”
Motunrayo chuckled bitterly. Cynthia’s words stung like nettles especially because they were true. All she managed to say was,
“Some guys are just like that. But he’s not all that bad sha.”
“He’s not all that bad?” Cynthia sneered. “So you’re waiting for him to get worse, abi?”
“It’s not that serious, come on, Cynthia,” said Motunrayo. “It’s just a birthday.”
“Is that what you tell yourself? Downplay it for his sake when it means so much to you? I’m your roomie. Every year it’s the same thing. On your birthday, you’re morose. You spend the whole day frantically checking your phone to see if he remembered. It doesn’t matter if anyone else wishes you a Happy Birthday. It doesn’t mean anything unless it comes from him. And it never does. Don’t even get me started on the sadness. It’s like a dark cloud that follows you around–”
“Cynthia, abeg, abeg! E don do,” said Motunrayo. “Stop carrying my matter on your head.”
“Na your own you dey talk,” Cynthia hissed.
What Motunrayo did not want to tell Cynthia was that she had discussed this issue with Folarin countless times. He always promised to make it a priority, but he never did.
In spite of everything, Motunrayo believed that even if the Folarins of this world had flaws, they also had their good points. No man was a living, breathing, massive flaw.
Her Folarin was a polite, punctual, well-mannered man, who didn’t care for birthdays. Not even his own.
They met at the campus car park and had to share a taxi going off-campus. She remembered distinctly telling him that her birthday was May 24, exactly three days before Children’s Day. He had nodded, told her his own – October 13 – but only one of them had walked away remembering the other person’s birthday.
And it certainly wasn’t Folarin.
But that was not why they broke up. The break-up was triggered by one question:
What is my best asset?
Motunrayo had asked Folarin this question when he came to visit her in her room one evening. She was standing with her back to the window, leaning against a table, and he sat close by, on her bed.
“Just drop the ‘et’ in ‘asset’ and that’s your answer,” said Folarin grinning.
And just in case she didn’t get it, he smacked her hard on the derriere.
Motunrayo was stunned. “So you skipped my brain, even my eyes? Kpata-kpata you could have said my lips. Instead, you picked my backside.”
“You want me to lie to you?” Folarin asked.
“I want more than you’re willing to give. It’s over.”
It was Folarin’s turn to be stunned. “Call me when you’re in a better mood,” he said, before leaving.
She never did.
Five months passed. Then, another door opened for Motunrayo. A dream on two legs, with strong shoulders and full lips, walked into her life.
His name was Nnamdi.
One look at him and one wondered:
Which Folarin? Who … What is a Folarin? Mschew!
It might be unfair to compare one’s current relationship with the past one. But Motunrayo couldn’t help herself. When she stacked Nnamdi up against the person of Folarin, now her ex-boyfriend, Nnamdi stood much, much taller.
Was a comparison even fair?
It was hard not to, especially when she had met both men on the same university campus. But meeting Nnamdi was fate. Or destiny as her father called it.
On a Monday morning, her 9:00 a.m. lecture was canceled. Motunrayo went to the library to snooze for a bit until hunger woke her up. It was the same hunger that sent her on a journey to the cafeteria, an hour before she usually did. She was standing in line, in front of a certain gentleman, when she heard him tell the food seller:
“Madam, I’ll pay for her.”
Motunrayo turned around to look into the face of her mysterious benefactor. In her haste, she slapped his face with her long, ponytail. As a frantic stream of apologies consisting of “I’m so sorry” and “Are you okay?” came gushing out of her mouth, Mr. Free Lunch did not complain.
“I need to do my hair like yours so I can drive away mosquitoes and miscreants just like that …” he said, flicking his imaginary ponytail with gusto.
Motunrayo laughed. Who wouldn’t? And she laughed in such a loud voice that Mr. Free Lunch said:
“I need that type of laughter in my life, Miss–”
And in that pause, she gave him her name.
“It’s Motunrayo. And please drop the ‘Miss.’ Haba! I’m not a teacher. You can call me ‘Tunrayo.”
“Why would I do that?” said Mr. Free Lunch. “Your name is beautiful, just like you.”
Of course, Motunrayo blushed. Who wouldn’t?
He introduced himself as Nnamdi, a Master’s of Architecture student at the University of Lagos. She never forgot what he did when she told him her birthday.
He pulled out a small pocket diary and wrote down the date.
May 24: Motunrayo Ajibade’s birthday.
“You wrote down my birthday? Why?” she asked.
“Because you should always write down what is important to you,” he replied with a smile. “And when you meet a lady whose name means ‘I have found joy again,’ it’s important.”
Motunrayo stared and stared at Nnamdi, a look of wonder on her face. What planet did this guy fall from? Were there others like him there? Or was this just a charade, an elaborate play to get into her pants?
Because men these days can be so conniving …
Instead of asking the questions that crossed her mind, Motunrayo found herself telling Nnamdi,
“Oh, that’s just not fair, you know.”
“What isn’t fair?” he asked.
“You know the meaning of my name, but I have no clue what yours means,” said Motunrayo.
He smiled a smile that reminded one of a fact of life:
The sun rises in the East, and sets in the West.
Nnamdi’s smile started from the corners of his mouth, slowly spreading to his cheeks and then, his eyes until his whole face was a gorgeous, radiant burst of sunshine, beautiful to behold, warm and inviting.
“All you had to do was ask,” he said. “It means ‘My father is alive’ or ‘My God is alive.’ ”
“For some reason, I thought it was the same as Babatunde,” said Motunrayo.
“Do you know what Babatunde means?” said Nnamdi.
Motunrayo nodded. Although she had no proof, she believed that at least one Tunde lived on any given street in Lagos. The name was that popular.
“Of course,” she replied. “It means ‘Father has returned’ or ‘Father has come back,’ because of Yorubas and their belief in reincarnation.”
“That is correct, Professor Motunrayo,” he said, leaning back.
By now, they were both sitting at a table in the noisy cafeteria. The food they had purchased sat in front of them, untouched and the rest of the cafeteria just faded away. They were so wrapped up in their conversation that the surrounding noise did not matter.
Motunrayo’s face must have betrayed her astonishment.
Who takes time to explain such things?
“You’re uh … interesting, you know,” was all she managed to say.
“Just because I told you the meaning of my name?” Nnamdi asked incredulously. “It’s easy when you’re sitting across from a fine girl. I fit give you my bank account number sef.”
“Ta! Gerraway jo!” said Motunrayo, giggling.
Motunrayo felt her cheeks burning as her face slowly underwent the transformation Nnamdi’s own had done.
She was smiling. And blushing. A few weeks later, their relationship was official.
The next year whirled past like a dream. Motunrayo entered her final year as an English student and the day for her Project Defense drew closer. In that time, Nnamdi finished his Master’s degree program and continued working full-time at the architecture firm of Olusola & Okadigbo. Although he was no longer a student, he gave Motunrayo all the moral support she needed to complete her final year.
Finally, the day of her Project Defense arrived. She had written her thesis on “Alluring Alliterations and the Evolution of English Language.” That morning, she received the most extraordinary text message from Nnamdi.
Today we celebrate the latest graduate and the best girlfriend in the world.
Motunrayo laughed. “How can he be calling me a graduate when I haven’t even defended my project? What if I have a carry-over and have to stay back for one more year?” she said to herself.
But she didn’t share any of these fears with Nnamdi. Instead, her response was:
You mean “future graduate,” right? And how are we celebrating?
Dear Graduate, it’s a surprise!
The last few times Nnamdi surprised Motunrayo, his calls and text messages did nothing to alert her that anything unusual was afoot. In fact, this was the first time he had actually used the word “surprise.”
What was this man up to?
But Motunrayo didn’t have time to worry about that. Rather, she dressed up in her interpretation of business casual: a formal-looking lilac blouse tucked into a black pencil skirt. On her feet, she wore flat leather sandals. Her black leather pumps, which her mother called “court shoes,” were hurriedly shoved into a nylon bag. She could not walk all the way from her room to the lecture hall in those heels, but they would make an appearance when it was Showtime.
She dressed up quickly and went to the hall where her Project Defense would hold. After undergoing severe grilling by panel members, she successfully completed her defense.
As soon as she stepped out of the lecture hall, she saw Nnamdi standing outside. He wore a wide grin and a look of anticipation on his face. In his hand, he held a single red ribbon.
“Sweetie, Congratulations! I knew you’d ace it,” he said, scooping her up in his arms. Motunrayo wrapped her arms around his neck and closed her eyes as she inhaled the musky scent of French cologne. She felt his taut muscles under his shirt before she pulled away.
When she was back on her feet, he still held her close. So close that their lips could touch if she simply leaned closer …
Was he going to kiss her? Nnamdi read the question in her eyes, but all she got was a light peck on the cheeks.
“What’s the ribbon for?” she asked.
“Oh, this? It’s part of the surprise na,” he said, stuffing the ribbon into his trousers pocket. “But that’s later. Right now, you’re going to change and I’ll take you out for a special treat.”
“All this hush-hush. Did you buy me a car or a house in Lekki?” Motunrayo teased, patting his breast pocket for a hidden key of some sort.
Nnamdi chuckled. “You are worth so much more than that. Just wait and see.”
And with Motunrayo’s curiosity still unsatisfied, the pair went to Madam Tinubu Hall a.k.a. MTH, the hostel where Motunrayo lived. Nnamdi waited downstairs in his car. Meanwhile, upstairs in her room, Motunrayo slipped into the little black dress she had received as a Valentine’s Day gift from Nnamdi that year.
But the dress was not the best part.
Along with the dress, as with all the special dates he marked, was an even more special gift: a paper flower. A rose.
From the day they started dating, Nnamdi had given her gifts accompanied by paper flowers, handcrafted by none other than Nnamdi himself.
But these were not ordinary flowers. What truly elevated them from works of art to keepsakes, was that each paper flower was covered in promises, words written in Nnamdi’s cursive, dreamy handwriting.
On days when she wanted to re-live the experience of receiving these promises, she would spray each flower with the sweet, floral perfume that Nnamdi had gifted her on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day was the day she received the first flower and the first promise. It was an exquisite red rose. The outer petals were covered with Nnamdi’s words in black ink:
I promise to love and cherish you, now and always …
Motunrayo who had never received something so beautiful, made just for her, was speechless.
“Won’t you say something?” Nnamdi asked, a worried expression on his face.
“Do you … Did you do this for your ex-girlfriends?” she finally managed to say, as if from a dream.
Nnamdi chuckled. “You’re the only woman who has compelled me to explore that side, my artistic side. You, Motunrayo.”
The Val’s Day gift bag also contained a box of chocolates, a teddy bear, and perfume. But who can forget a paper flower with such sweet words?
Those paper flowers always came with all Nnamdi’s gifts.
In March, on Mother’s Day, Nnamdi came bearing gifts … and Flower Number 2. This one was fuschia pink, a delicate rose.
“But I’m not a mother yet,” Motunrayo protested. “Abi you want to make me your Baby Mama ni?”
Nnamdi chuckled. “That would make me your Baby Dada, but I want to be so much more than that. You are mine, the future mother of our children.”
“Whoa! Whoa! Slow your roll, Nnamdi,” said Motunrayo in a panicked voice. “I haven’t even graduated and you’re skipping so-o-o many steps–”
“No. I’m sharing my plans with you. Plans for our future,” said Nnamdi.
Motunrayo calmed down on hearing those words.
“I believe honesty is the best policy. I’m just speaking from my heart,” said Nnamdi. The fuschia rose bore these words:
I promise to support you as the sweet mother to our lovely kids.
“You mean children, right? Only baby goats are kids,” said Motunrayo.
They both laughed.
The third flower arrived in April, on Administrative Professionals Day. Nnamdi gave her a cobalt blue flower, filled with these words:
I promise to support your dreams, your career, your ambitions, however many and varied they are. Your vision for the world is a precious gift that should be shared.
The fourth flower came on her birthday: May 24. It was a lovely mint green rose. Motunrayo noted that the color would make a nice, chiffon blouse. He wrote:
I promise to celebrate the wonder that you are, this beautiful gift God gave to me.
Three days later, on Children’s Day, he gave her a lilac rose. This was Flower Number 5 and on it, another promise was scribbled in black ink:
I can’t promise children. It is God who gives children. But I promise to provide for our children and to love them as fiercely and passionately as I love their mother.
I promise to protect, instruct and correct them, and treat them like the precious gifts they are.
On Father’s Day in June, he gave her the sixth paper flower: a yellow rose. The petals bore these words:
I promise to be a loving father, a responsible leader and role model for our children.
On July 31, the International Day of Friendship, he gave her the seventh paper flower: a purple rose. On the petals, Nnamdi had penned these words:
I promise to be your best friend, to hold your hand and walk with you through life’s many seasons. We will weather every storm together, and emerge victorious, side by side.
Motunrayo kept all these roses in an old shoe box under her bed. But the promises were stored in her heart, the place where the most precious things are kept.
As she was about to leave, Nnamdi sent a final text message.
Bring all the flowers with you.
They drove to a restaurant tucked away in a quiet corner of Lagos. There was a live band playing jazz as they walked in, hand-in-hand.
As soon as they sat down, and ordered drinks, Nnamdi pulled out the ribbon and before her eyes, tied all the flowers together into a lovely colorful bouquet.
Taking her hand in his own, he said:
“This ribbon is red, the red of love. It’s been an amazing year, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life keeping all these promises to you.”
And then, he got down on one knee, pulled out a blue velvet box and asked:
“Will you marry me?”
With tears in her eyes, Motunrayo gave the answer that had been in her heart since she received the first rose.
Then, he kissed her.
September Short Stories