• Dami Afam Ade-Odiachi

Talking love with Ogilvey: Leave the past where it belongs... in the past.

“Let’s talk about your last relationship.”

That’s Ogilvey. A friend for 13 years. A pal for life, a buddy for love.

It’s interesting how we put the people we know and love in boxes.

Temitayo, the sharp minded fellow with the wicked sense of humour becomes the guy you go to when you need a hug, a little bit of platonic affection when the rigours of normal life have made that very thing scarce.

Ife (pronounced ‘E-fair’ – light on the E, heavy on the ‘fair’, silent on the R) infectious, optimistic, clever, a lawyer, that’s the one you call when you need a groove, a dance, a jig of complete delight.

Ogilvey, as white and as open minded as a blank sheet of paper, the only man who has seen more romantic comedies than I. He’s the one I call when it’s time to unpack my sordid romantic history.

“In a way it was just like all the others that came before it. It started. It ended,” I said with great authority.

I don’t enjoy remembering past relationships. To remember them is to relive them, the memories of how we were. I don’t think they’re ever all the way pleasant or all the way painful, like much of life. But if you make a curiously bad alliance with a devil, it is likely that any recollection of the unholy affair will inspire much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The memory of my last one is so confusing that I’m convinced the pair of us must have been quite unwell. It was a metaphysical disaster, a psycho-spiritual conundrum, and I will never do anything like it ever again, not in this world, or the next world, but perhaps maybe in Florida. Anything, everything, is possible in Florida.

“Surely Afam there’s more to it than that. There must be. I’ve got a fancy dress Zoom party in an hour and I need entertainment while I drink.”

He took a sip from his wine glass just after he said that, smug as a bug in a rug. It was awkward doing this on Zoom. In a more traditional year, we’d have been together, maybe in London, in his flat, and he wouldn’t have been drinking wine, it’d have been tequila. Tragedies laced with tequila have the good habit of ending up as divine comedies.

“I don’t know that anything about it was remotely entertaining. My parents damn near lost their minds. But there’s one funny story. One night, I drove the partner and a friend home. The friend thanked me for the drive. I said something like the pleasure’s all mine, being your designated driver was fun. Then, I heard the strangest barb I’ve ever heard in all my life, ‘What designated driver, he’s just a driver.’”

“I lost my shit, Gil! How could anyone refer to me as a driver? With a tone too! It’s dangerously impolite. To be driven by me is to be driven by a handsome journalist!”

“But aren’t many drivers in Nigeria graduates?” Ogilvey asked.

“That’s not the point. There are things that don’t count as banter when the speaker is white. It was just ridiculously condescending. Racism 3.0.”

“It’s a bit funny that you, black you, dated someone racially insensitive but apart from that it isn’t very funny. I think icky is the word.” Ogilvey said.

“The irony isn’t lost on me. There was one more race related incident. We were driving to Barbar…”

“Is that the barbing salon that’s also a bar?”

“Yes… We were driving, and I was sat in front with the driver - an actual driver. The lover was sat in the back with a colleague, a white colleague. A policeman stopped us at a routine checkpoint, looked in the front, saw the pair of them seated at the back and said to the driver and I, ‘I don’t talk to blacks. I only talk to whites.’ It blew my mind.”

“The policeman said this to you in Nigeria, the country with the most black people in the world?”

He shrieked after asking the question. I wished he’d had the good sense to mute himself before he did it. It isn’t the most pleasant sound. It’s a bit like the final bleat of a dying goat, deeply unpleasant.

“Yes. It was very strange. Now, a year and a bit later, that incident has become the metaphor in my head for the entire relationship. It was confusing. I didn’t know if I was coming or going, or going or coming, or why on earth I strapped myself to someone I found as sexy as a gaping sewer.”

I don’t think that’s strictly true, but failed relationships do that to you. We have so much rage and vitriol for the ones we failed with that when we speak of them, vulgarity is never far from the mind or the lips. I wasn’t perfect, far from it! I was probably technically insane at the time. I’d ended up stranded in the very common crisis that is mental illness, and the entire thing was probably the result of that. People who think they’d rather not be alive aren’t known for constructive decision making.

“I think I might need more wine!” Ogilvey exclaimed.

He topped up his glass.

“If you have this much shit to say about someone then chances are, they have even more shit to say about you.” He continued.

“If I was perfect then there’d be no point at all in living. Improvement is the spring of joy!” I said.

“Well, the best romances, the ones that make for the most interesting conversation are usually the most disastrous. I remember that one time you checked out of one because the fool kissed you after eating what you said felt like a sack of onions.”

“I’ve really suffered in my life Gil… But Madam Onion and I still talk.”

Infrequently, with much abruptness, polite impoliteness, and curtness.

“Sounds oniony. It’s best when lovers become strangers, especially the bad ones. I never quite recovered from the destroyer of my 2016. Every time I see the…”

He paused. Scratching his head.

“What do I call that one?” He asked.

“Infinitely licentious, disastrously lusty and devilishly promiscuous -an evil spirit of Antichrist proportions. I think that’s an accurate description.”

I said, distracted. I was looking at myself in the zoom camera, turning my head left and right, up and down, trying to determine the angles that I felt did me the most favours. To look ugly in a Zoom with a long time friend is to stir up endless conversation about your quality of life or the lack there of. I don’t enjoy such sympathetic attention.

“Precisely! Every time I see the evil spirit I crawl under a table and flee the party. I highly recommend it,” he said.

“I think my mother would flay me alive if she heard I’d had to crawl under a table to avoid an ex. She’d accuse me of displaying contempt for manliness. She’d say I was communing with floors and allying myself with furniture. She’d say it was rebellion, which she says is exactly the same thing as witchcraft. ’”

“But what does rebellion have to with anything?” Ogilvey asked.

“I don’t know and I never ask. The last time I saw my ex-love, I was in a bar. I surrounded myself with my best-looking friends and danced suggestively with all of them.”

“Minding your business and winding your waist, a man after my own heart.” Ogilvey got up and performed what I’m sure was his best waist wind. He shouldn’t have. The screen froze on his crotch.

“The thought of the ex-lover seething with jealousy filled me with great flexibility. I nearly fell over and broke my back but it was worth it. I’d do it again. Also… maybe don’t do whatever it was you just did ever again. The screen froze on your crotch. If anyone walked by I wouldn’t know what to tell them.” I said, laughing.

“Oh! Sorry about that. I’ve sat down now.I thought you’d appreciate my off the cuff knowledge of Beyoncé lyrics.”

“I did! I would have said something mildly appreciative, but your groin’s still in my face.”

“It’s my best feature.” He said.

If we were texting I’d have typed “no comment.” Instead I said nothing. In fact I stopped breathing. Nothing corrects the course of a wayward conversation like silence after an objectionable phrase. I waited for the Zoom to unfreeze and return to his face. I’m not quite used to bantering with belt buckles, zips, and denim.

“Was there anything about it, the relationship, that was good?” Ogilvey asked.

“Yes… It was so much fun in the beginning… So much fun! We went out a lot! Everyday felt like a laugh, unexpected, exciting. I was drunk, and I didn’t want the feeling to end, but it did. The memory of it sustained us far longer than reason can possibly explain. I should have left, but I find leaving impossible. I’m not built to be the dumper, I’d much rather be the dumped dude.”

“So you were dumped?” He asked, pouring himself another glass of red.

“Oh yes! It was rather unremarkable. I’d already checked out. I ignored calls. I asked for endless amounts of space. There was a bit of me still hoping I’d be able to come back and salvage everything, make it fun again, but I knew it was coming. The end sounded like this. ‘You know we’re done right? I can’t really be with someone that’s not there. But we can still shag from time to time.’ I was both happy and sad, but the last bit made me gag. I felt like such an object in the entire thing, and I don’t mind being objectified, but it’s a bit ewww when you’re not particularly keen on the notion.” I said.

“What a lesson! I hope you will profit from it.” Ogilvey said, sounding, looking, almost bored.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked, almost offended.

“How do I say this? When you were in whatever it is you were, doing whatever it was you were doing, with whoever the hell that was, I didn’t like you very much. I felt like I was watching a very bad episode of television. So I’m glad that it’s over, I’m sorry it happened, and I wouldn’t like to see you do anything like it again. Did you learn anything, or will we have to spend 2021 dealing with the same thing in different cloak?”

His nostrils were flaring, he was quite upset with me now.

“Not 2021, maybe 2022, I’m on a hiatus from entanglements that skew romantic.” I said.

He laughed at that, and then I laughed too. I couldn’t say anything more. I no longer find it interesting to talk endlessly about lessons learned in love. What good does that do anyone? Telling people you’ve changed, that you’re different, is the best way to be doubted. You shouldn’t have to say it, not with your mouth, that’s just propaganda, lies from the pit of personal politics. Real change is seen not spoken.

“That’s for the best I think. We’re old now. Our lives are far too full for unnecessary excitement.” He said a bit matter of factly, taking another sip from his glass. I wondered for a moment if I should get myself one too. I decided not to. I only drink when the occasion demands it and in my experience, Zoom catch ups rarely do.

“And tears… unnecessary tears.” I chipped in.

“Yes those are awful. Every time I mourn one of my many lost loves, I get the flu. Weeping is such an unhealthy thing to do.” He said with the air of a seasoned health professional.

“I knew the relationship was dead and buried when I cried myself straight into Malaria.”

“You did what?” My friend shouted.

“I cried so hard… I was inconsolable Gil. First I thought I was crying about the relationship, then it was about my grandparents, then it was about my life… The next thing I knew, I was running a fever and puking my guts out. Malaria.”

“That’s a bit dramatic even for you!” He exclaimed

“Were you even in love? It doesn’t sound like you were? Was your heart really broken?” He continued.

“Everyone thinks that heartbreak happens when a lover, a partner, a spouse betrays you, but I don’t think that’s true. True heartbreak happens when you betray yourself, when you break faith with yourself, when you defame yourself, when you don’t take yourself seriously, when you belittle yourself… when you treat the sum of your parts so poorly that your spirit rises up against you in protest. I think I broke my own heart. You don’t recover from that easily.” I remarked.

“I think my work here is done. Sounds like you learned quite the lesson. I hope it sticks.” He said.

“I hope so too.” I replied.

“Well, I have to go, I’ve got that zoom thing to get ready for. It’s fancy dress and I’m not quite dressed for it yet.”

“What are you going as?” I asked.

“A cowboy.” He said with a smile.

I smiled back and ended the Zoom. It’s always best to end conversations abruptly. That way, you don’t get stuck in the awkwardness that is the goodbye. We’d set a time for another conversation soon I was sure… I got up from the dining table, closing that chapter in the black book of lovers long gone. I went to get a Ribena from the fridge. Everything feels better when there’s Ribena involved.

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