Today, we round up our September Short Stories with the fourth and final story in this series. To The Man I Once Loved is an office romance story set in Nigeria. It is also an epistolary short story, meaning it is written in the form of a letter.
In To The Man I Once Loved, the writer is a side chick/mistress giving her boss/lover some very important information. Or maybe it isn’t important. Oh, well, when you read, you can decide, abi? 😀
To everyone who has followed this series, thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed each story.
If you missed the first three stories, there’s still time to catch up. Here they are:
Now, for the final story.
TO THE MAN I ONCE LOVED
12 Wemimo Street
January 12, 2017
You are reading this letter on the verandah, crowded with potted plants. Their leaves are wilted and brown because I stopped watering them ages ago. The sun has set and darkness has fallen on this city. This Lagos. It is 7:00pm-ish, the time when happily married men if they’re lucky, are at home with their wives.
But you are still at the office, waiting for me.
Tonight, you will wait in vain. I am not coming. Not today, not ever.
I should have returned from Mr. Phillips’ office an hour ago after dropping off his cheque. Instead of going home, I should have come back to the office. To you. That was our agreement. My lateness does not bother you. Lagos traffic makes short errands take longer.
“I will wait for her,” you say to yourself, and then you go to my desk to play on my computer. I know you do that when I’m not in the office. While you’re there, you open that file labeled “Tayo Brown,” the fictitious client we made up. That’s the file we put our secret messages in for less than 24 hours. It’s the less secure of our two hiding places. In Tayo Brown’s file, you find a sticky note with my handwriting. You see today’s date and three words. You read them aloud.
“Dust and Rust.”
You get the message: I have left you a note in our second hiding place.
With a spring in your step, you walk through a long hallway with tiled floors, past empty offices, until you get there. Our secret place. An old storeroom full of dusty, rusting typewriters, the place where we leave each other naughty notes, words meant for our eyes only. You open the brown envelope wedged under the only typewriter that still works. A look of surprise crosses your face as you unfold a long letter addressed to “Bode.”
But you’re a creature of habit, so you read it on the verandah, like the much shorter notes.
Remember when you said I could never surprise you? Tonight, I did. And there are more surprises for you.
For the first time in our 8 months together, I’m putting myself first. I am doing what is right for me. I am also choosing to see things as they truly are, not through the tinted glasses of that thing we called love. I will no longer deceive myself, and will certainly not let you deceive me.
I saw you with Yewande that night. Yes, Yewande, your wife, the mother of your children, and the only woman who should reign in your heart. But there’s also me, the other woman. I am the one you can’t display proudly like an expensive watch on your wrist. You keep me hidden like the starched underwear lying under your clothes. It was your duty to keep our story out of the public eye. That was our agreement.
If you want to blame anyone or anything, blame that office Christmas party. There was something about the way you held Yewande that night: possessiveness, pride, and passion merged into one. And when you kissed her, there was no shame, no apology in your eyes. You were not afraid to be seen with her in public.
Something about that moment shook me. It shook me out of my complacency, shook the fantasy of us out of my head, and brought me face to face with the truth.
What I saw that night, coupled with the multitude of unkept promises, soured my love for you. When love turns sour, what can make it sweet again? I think that was when I stopped loving you.
I don’t hate you, Bode, but that love is gone.
That night, I realized that Yewande would always be Number 1. You will never tell me otherwise, but that’s the truth. I won’t let you continue filling my ears with empty promises, the hollow brother of false hope.
Yes, I loved you and would have done just about anything for you. Even lie to myself. But your heart was not 100% mine.
How could I have been so blind? The promises always came after we bonded. And we bonded everywhere: on that couch in your office, in the storage closet, in the back seat of your car, in hotel rooms, on your desk, on Funke’s desk … If she knew, she’d never eat at her desk again.
The gifts and promises always came after bonding. But like a fool, I believed you. I believed that you were sincere, that you would really leave Yewande and give me your last name.
After all, she too was once your personal assistant. Why can’t a man make that choice a second time and upgrade a woman from PA to wife?
But it was never meant to be. I see that now.
As you read this, you’re thinking of calling me. In your mind, you’ve readied cajoling words to win me back.
“Baby, don’t do this. We can work this out.”
But you’ll never get a chance to say those words to me because once you dial my number, you’ll discover that I have blocked yours. No, I won’t give you the chance to talk about “us” as if we had a real future together.
The “Us” that existed was false, a passing, fleeting shadow. I should have known that if a man is ashamed to show off the woman he calls ‘my own’ in private, then they have no future together.
I don’t think anyone in the office knew about us. If they did, they have not said a word. But you know what?
Women always know when a man is messing around, but it’s more difficult for a man to discover a woman’s duplicity.
I don’t know how she knew. Maybe cheating spouses give off a feral scent that their partners can smell or that follows them around like terrible body odor. Or maybe it was the late nights, the emotional distance, and all the warning signs you were blind to, but that she saw.
Whatever it was, Yewande knew. And she said nothing.
But that day at the office Christmas party, when you guys were slow-dancing with your back turned to me (I was beside the bar, wearing your favorite dress), I saw this look in her eyes. I can’t explain it. She wasn’t smiling, but she looked right at me like her eyes had been searching me out all evening. When our eyes met, I knew she knew.
It defies logic, how words are unspoken and yet two people understand each other.
It happened that night.
I didn’t tell you. I couldn’t. You always brush this sort of thing aside anyway. But I knew then, that our relationship had to end and I would have to do it. I knew you wouldn’t let go.
Guess who else knew? Vera, my room-mate. She confronted me not long after you started dropping me off at home. She said:
“So your boss is your new Uber driver?”
The first few times I brushed it aside and gave her excuses. But when gifts started arriving at my flat, she flat out told me,
“Stop sleeping with your boss. It won’t end well.”
I think she was concerned about my safety and didn’t want me to end up maimed or disfigured from someone pouring acid on me, for example. I don’t know if Yewande is that sort of person, but I don’t want to find out.
I told Vera the one thing I knew for sure.
“I love him.”
I’ll never forget the way she laughed. It sounded like mockery magnified a million times. You know the next thing she said?
“Does he love you?”
I said: “Yes. We love each other, and–”
Vera didn’t even let me finish. She said: “Let me guess. He said he’ll leave his wife and marry you, abi? Dey there dey dream. Ain’t gonna happen.”
I told her you were different, that you were a man of your words, a man who kept his promises. Vera laughed at me again and said:
“Never judge a man by his words, but by his actions.”
I should have listened to her, because she was right. But when the love was “shacking” me and messing with my brain, I couldn’t see the truth.
Now, my eyes have cleared.
How do I describe this new feeling? Even I don’t understand it. I don’t love you, but yet I don’t hate you. I can’t blame anyone but myself because at every juncture, I had a choice. I knew you were married, and yet I chose you over and over again. I let myself be used, lied to, devalued.
I did this to me.
Am I a homewrecker, seeing as I was the outsider, having an affair with a married man? No. I won’t let you put that burden on me. If your home is broken, that is on you, Bode. You were the one who married Yewande. It was you who proposed to her, asked her to spend the rest of her life with you, to change her last name to yours, and convinced her to build a life with you. You stood at the altar and made solemn vows to honor and be faithful to her.
Yes, it was you, Bode who broke your promises to your wife.
I should have known that if a man cannot keep his promises to his wife, the woman he made a formal commitment to, he cannot keep any promise to a woman he is “seeing” in private.
Our relationship was not a marriage, but I can’t deny that it required a certain level of commitment. We were committed to keeping each other’s secret, committed to spending time together, committed to … Or was it just me dreaming? Was I the only one who was committed? Now, I wonder what you really expected, Bode, where you really thought this would end? Or maybe you weren’t thinking. Perhaps, that was the problem.
I believe we were destined to meet but never destined to be together.
I don’t wish I had met you before your wife did. I think we would still have ended up in this exact place. Because people like you and I don’t wind up married to each other.
I have not found my guy, but when I do, you can be sure I will not mention us to him. I will erase you from my life as if you never existed and hope that life never throws us together again.
That would be awkward.
In the thick of our affair (or call it what you may), I fell in love with you. Thoughts of you filled my every waking moment. No one else mattered, no one else could ever be enough. But I wonder: was what we had true love or was it purely lust or a mix of both? I think it was a mix.
You hired me almost a year ago. I liked my job, and … I liked you. It didn’t take long for that “like” to evolve into something else. I didn’t know what to do with those feelings, but I never shared them with you.
“It’s just a crush,” I told myself. Who wouldn’t fall for their young, attractive, rich boss, a man with impeccable taste, a true man of the world? Our office was like a high school and you were the most popular boy. But this time, the “popular boy” was already taken. As in, properly taken. You were married.
You had signed your heart away to someone else. So, I kept away. The ring on your finger seemed to have special powers, projecting an invisible yet impenetrable shield, protecting you against would-be husband snatchers.
Too bad it wasn’t a repellant.
But I was no husband snatcher. I never was. The only husband that can be snatched is a willing one or one who has had his will taken away. Nobody took away your will. But as I later discovered, you were more than willing.
Day after day, spending time in close quarters with you, I started to learn your habits (good and bad), things others seemed blind to. I strove to do more of the things you liked, and less of the things that displeased you. I tailored my life to suit yours.
The day you said, “Oyin, stop calling me ‘sir.’ Call me Bode,” I was taken aback and said, “That’s not proper, sir.”
You snickered and said, “That’s what I like about you. You understand what is proper, and what isn’t.”
I look back, and even then I understood what you were really saying. That you knew I understood rules, rules of propriety and the disorder that reigns when those rules are broken.
That day, I also knew you didn’t only want to be my boss. A friend, maybe?
The next few weeks showed me what you really wanted.
You didn’t do what some of my former bosses have done. Tasteless, dirty old men with absolutely no tact, who just leer, ogle, stare and make grabs for vital body parts.
No, you treated me with decency, like an equal. Which is why I cannot call what we had just an affair. It was so much more …
And then one day, it happened.
You came to the office, and I could tell that something was different. I caught you staring at me longer than usual. All day you were pensive and there was this … tension.
I should have run away, told you I was ill. Anything. I should have put a lot of physical distance between us. But I didn’t. A part of me wanted this, to know what would happen if I stayed.
That evening, we both stayed behind after everyone had left, working late as usual. Both of us were alone in the office. As I was going to leave, you looked up and said:
“And where do you think you’re going?”
“Home,” I replied.
“Really?” you said, rising from behind your desk. I saw you slide both hands in your pocket and you casually strolled like a man who had all the time in the world. There was no hurry in your steps. Then, you planted yourself between me and the door.
In a low voice, you said:
“My wife has traveled to London. With the kids. I’ll be going home to an empty house.”
I made no reply. What was I supposed to say? Sorry? I didn’t, and yet, you continued.
“Now, do you think it’s fair, hmmm? To leave me alone in a big, empty house?”
In my naivety, I said:
“You can visit friends. There’s no need to be lonely. Sir.”
That was when you took my bag from me and flung it on the couch. You said:
“I’ve told you to call me, Bode. ‘Sir’ is for old men. Do I look old to you?”
“No, Bode,” I said. Maybe you didn’t know, but my heart was racing so fast, I thought it would explode. Or maybe you knew and it gave you the fire to keep going. The next thing you said was,
“Are you not my friend?”
I could feel your warm breath on my face. I should have pushed you away, but my head must have been locked away in my handbag, out of reach. My heart was in charge that night.
“Yes,” I said.
Without waiting for another word, you planted your lips on mine.
And … the whole world ceased to matter.
Right there in your office, I gave myself to you. But your heart was never yours to give, for it belonged to another.
I wonder now what we really had. Was I just a welcome distraction from whatever unhappiness or inadequacy you faced in your marriage? Or was there even more than one of us? I never saw anything to suggest that you had another mistress or side chick, but I truly wonder if I was the only one you were messing around with.
Would it have been enough to be emotionally supportive without the physical benefits? Or was that a natural progression, something that was bound to happen?
I don’t have all the answers, but I have made up my mind to put you … to put us behind me once and for all.
As you read this letter, I am on a plane to a city in another country. I won’t tell you where because it’s none of your business.
That is where the next chapter of my life begins. The “Us” chapter ends here.
With this letter, I write you out of my life’s story.
Move on, Bode. I have.
This is goodbye.
September Short Stories
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Also, check out the August Fiction Series:
For more epistolary short stories/letter writing fiction, you should definitely check out: