Two and a half years earlier
It was a longer than usual weekend for Mezu.
The first couple of days were absolute bliss but after three days of being cooped up in his condo, Mezu was certain he either get out and get some fresh air or let Mr. Cabin Fever have a field day with whatever was left of him.
Sprawled on his royal blue tufted chaise lounge, at the foot was a copy of the Thursday edition of the C-Metro express paper perched on the lattice side paneled wood end tables. Mezu had been staring at the paper for the last few minutes, which only seemed to stare back at him. The center fold advertisement in the metro express had the event for Sunday at 4pm. Shifting his gaze from the muted TV, he settled on the pendant light hanging above him for a few seconds before zeroing in on the time display on the TV. It was on the TV guide station. It was 2.45pm.
An hour later, he walked past the stained glass mural next to the entry way leading into the “Sub Sahara Africa on Display” art exhibition and reception. In the short walk from the parking lot to the gallery, Mezu could already feel the bounce in his step and his dulled senses beginning to awaken from their slumber as the fresh, cool air ever so slightly brushed his face. The warmth of the sun on his neck and back was invigorating. For Mezu, It appeared to be shaping up to be a pleasant evening.
As he turned around the corner, he could not help but notice a small group of viewers gathered around one of the docents. With their backs to him, they were focused on an abstract piece with an interesting blend of colors done on canvas. Just as he made his way to the group, he was stopped in his tracks. First struck by her beauty, but it was her name tag that piqued his interest even more. She seemed preoccupied. Mezu walked up to her side and said “Bisi Dumebi, that is different. This may come across as presumptuous, but let me guess? you are Nigerian?”.
Resting his finger on his temple he continued “Based on your name, one parent is Yoruba, your mother perhaps and your father is Ibo right?”
Bisi was taken aback by the young man’s forwardness. Even more disconcerting, was his voice. It reminded her so much of her dad. As she turned slightly in the direction of the voice, she gave a mirthless smile. To her surprise, he was very different from what she expected; crisp white shirt, silver cuff links combined with a soft whiff of his cologne. Her mind raced as she tried to place the luxuriant, woodsy scent. Something by Bvlgari or Jo Malone. Even as she took all of that in, it was not lost on her, something she had not seen in a while, the way the concave curves of his head and firm looking shoulders aligned with the rest of his body gave him a confident but relaxed air.
As she gathered her thoughts, at the same time trying to figure out how best to respond, he carried on “Hi, I am Chimezu (chee-may-zoo) Agu. I could not help but notice your name tag.” Under normal circumstances, nice smelling and well-groomed was a winner combination in a man for Bisi, but given the present situation, she had her doubts.
Bisi: “Bisi is a short form for the full name, Ndubisi, (in-do-bee-cee) life is paramount”. Her eyes finally resting on his name tag as she slowly extended her hands to shake his, already outstretched. Bisi’s parents had experienced a few miscarriages, before she came along and even with hers, it was a challenging pregnancy. Her parents decided Ndubisi a most befitting name for their first child.
“Oh my, that is quite interesting. I am sure you must get that a lot” Mezu continued.
Bisi managed a polite smile. For Bisi, this was a first on many levels. The awkwardness that followed their introductions was cut short by the organizers’ vote of thanks acknowledging the sponsors. However, once that was over, Mezu who seemed unfazed, picked up right from where he left off, this time offering to get her something from the bar. Bisi settled for a mocktail.
As Bisi contemplated the possibilities, “maybe he was not a nut case afterall or maybe it was too early to judge”. she also surveyed the space and made a mental note to surround herself with enough people, just in case.
Bisi, singing along quietly to the local band’s rendition of Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T suddenly felt the tension in her shoulders ease up as he approached her. Maybe it was just his carefree manner or the music or all. A few minutes later, drinks in hand, they spotted a table in a quiet corner of the gallery.
“Did you find anything exciting or let me rephrase that, more like a piece you see yourself enjoying?” Mezu asked. Mezu observed how she slowly set her cup down on the bench table, as she subtly contemplated her response. “Let us just say even if I did, it is not part of this month’s budget, so it will have to wait. However, in terms of scale, orientation and symmetry I must say, I saw a couple worth further consideration.”
Bisi picked up on how he listened with a focused stare. She continued “At a friend’s birthday brunch, I met an African American, a lawyer by training who is an art collector consultant. She began collecting art out of law school, very knowledgeable”
Bisi shared what an impression the consultant made on her with her keen depth of knowledge and experience placing the works of a number of famous Nigerian artists, the likes of Shonibare, Enwonwu, Ehikhamenor, Onobrakpaye, Amadi-Obi, Chukwuogo-Roy and some others Bisi learned about for the first time.
Bisi paused to take another sip of her drink and continued “Anyway, I digress. I am learning quickly that the key to finding affordable art is to gain more exposure. Beyond the art galleries and museums are art fairs and even exhibitions at the embassies showcasing international talent. It’s truly the more you see, the more you learn and the more likely you can identify what you like.”
For the next hour, they talked about a variety of subjects. Mezu noticed for the second time in the last few minutes, Bisi taking a quick peek at her watch. Picking up her napkin she placed it under her empty cup. Bisi eased up from her seat. “I have to get going if I plan on making my seven o’ clock on time.”
Mezu gave her a half smile. “Bisi if you do not mind I would like to give you a call sometime.” “Sure” They exchanged phone numbers. Stretching out her hand, “It was a pleasure chatting with you and thanks again for the drink.”
Three days later, Mezu called and they agreed to meet up for drinks at the new place at the town center, the El. This was Bisi’s first time. It had a fresh, contemporary art decor ambiance with an open view of the streets from the bar. The ecru tufted banquette seating complimented the warmth of the dark wood floors. It was a quiet evening. Background music filtered in from the bar area.
As she poured herself a glass of water from the uncapped mason jar, she listened to Mezu talk about his love for good food and weakness for Korean barbecue. Three hours passed by and it felt like they just got there. Bisi found his openness to explore different experiences refreshing, exciting.
Mezu was attracted to Bisi from their first meeting. At three inches shy of six feet, she came to about his shoulders. She was a breathtaking blend between Gabrielle Union and facial features that reminded him of Omoni Oboli, the acclaimed Nigerian actress. The honey brown highlights accentuated her natural hair color.
Mezu was captivated by her understated elegant sense of style, gracefulness and not the least her wit. They began to talk more often over the phone and had had dinner a couple of times. In the beginning, Bisi was content with the slow pace of things because it gave her and she hoped Mezu, time to get to know each other better without any pressure. Something as simple as getting a call from him be it before she started her day at work or even better a random call, during the day, for no particular reason put a smile on her face. Although more challenging during the week, they were spending more time together on the weekends.
About eight years earlier Mezu left his home in Nigeria for the United States to attend graduate school. He was accepted into an MBA program with an emphasis in Forensic Accounting. Things took a different turn after his first year in Business school.
Mezu switched his emphasis to Supply Chain Management and was subsequently offered a job by his present employer towards the end of his Optical Practical Training (OPT) with the company. The twelve month training program designed for undergraduate and graduate students with a student visa, who have completed or are pursuing their degrees for more than nine months, offered him the opportunity to gain practical experience.
With his six year work anniversary at IG Tech around the corner, Mezu had begun to reevaluate the opportunities for career growth within and outside the company. If Mezu had any second thoughts about whether this was the right time to make a move, going through his “T chart” erased any doubts.
Mezu genuinely liked his position as the Lead Project Manager, his boss and the fact he had the option to work from home a couple of days a week. On the other hand there were the long hours, and less challenging responsibilities and non-existent advancement opportunities. The negatives outweighed the positives. This was not a fit for his long term career goals. It was time to make his move. However, a major challenge would be finding a new employer that would be willing to file the necessary paperwork for a new H1-B petition filed on his behalf.
Mezu increasingly appeared to be more preoccupied. More than he would care to admit, he had been a bit touchy about his situation. Bisi had been both patient and understanding and for that he was eternally grateful. Bisi had been waiting for the best time to have the discussion about their relationship with Mezu.
That never happened because they broke up and by mid-December he was on a flight to Nigeria to visit his parents and grandparents.
It had been almost a two weeks since Mezu arrived Nigeria. It was the last Sunday of the year. Idara his younger cousin was also in town to visit their grandparents and today they were both on their way to the Annual Village Fundraiser.
The earth brown dust trailed behind the cars and motorcyclists as they sped down the narrow and partially eroded untarred roads. The warmth of the sunlight cut through the smog. Mobs of pedestrians carefully maneuvered their way down to the festivities, walking down the patch of road bordering the gutters and bushes not taken over by the cars and cyclists that had morphed into a sidewalk of sorts due to the foot traffic.
The music blaring from the village square added to the excitement in the air. Even with the bumper to bumper traffic, they arrived the square in less than twenty minutes.
Mezu for a quick moment felt the flutters in his stomach as he made his way to the seating area where he could get a better view of the activities. The part of the square with the football field where the dance performance was to take place was lined with white tarp canopies laid out in an almost perfect rectangular shaped like courtyard. Under the canopies were multiple rows of plastic white chairs.
As he reached for one of the chairs, he noticed a young lady to his left leaning against the metal pole supporting the canopy perpendicular to the one next to the one where he was about to pull up a chair. As she shifted her weight to her right leg, it seemed so effortless. Even as the tassels of her white swiss dot lace shirt with capped sleeves darted aimlessly in her face, her gaze remained focused on the speaker.
Mezu observed a little girl tugging at her black and floral “Nigerian print” patterned long skirt, and not missing a beat, she gently placed her palm on the girl’s shoulder. The little girl stopped the tugging and leaned in against the young lady’s hips.
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