Koyefunmi is looking at me, smiling that smile reserved for people like Ufuoma who bring her moi-moi from Skippers whenever she’s having a bad day and I want to tell her that I do not come bearing her favorite thing to eat, I don’t come bearing anything at all, much less something good. Koye is one of those people, what do they call them, optimists or something. The ones with full glasses and problems always already half solved. She believes that contrary to popular opinion, everyone has something good and pure inside and that belief is what she likes to call her anchor.
I, on the other hand believe that no one is kind to anyone without a reason. I still think the Good Samaritan probably received compensation from the Jew he rescued and the bible just skips that part when it tells the story. My parents taught me early in life that “dis world bad!” and then life confirmed the lesson. From my mother leaving home and never coming back, no explanations given, when I was ten, to my father marrying a woman who thought my existence was a threat to her marriage, to girlfriends to whom I was always a project; “fix Ovunda and win many prizes!”. Girlfriends who often left after about a year of trying and failing to dispel my not so hidden cynic. In my defense, I tried and still try, but this is my truth and everyone should live their truth, no?
Then, last year, I met Koye. I want to say “she makes me want to be better. She makes the world more beautiful, makes the grass greener, fills up my glass” I want to say these things more than anything, but I would technically be incorrect. Koye is not the light to my darkness. She is the friend who sits in the dark with you and holds your hand until you are ready to come out where there’s light. She does not try to fill my glass, neither does she empty hers to make me happy, she lets us sit with both our glasses and on some days, I understand why she likes to have her glass full and on others, I like my empty glass just fine. Koye is there on all of those days. She looks at me like she sees something in me that I cannot see; a part of me so beautiful, too beautiful for my cynical eyes to appreciate. That is how she gets me.
She is looking at me in this way that she does today and suddenly I am awash with an aching inadequacy. It is there with its partner, panic and then I start to feel like what used to be me. How did I ever think this would work? Perhaps I am simply another kind of project now. I do not want to change for anyone. I want to be me and accepted for who I am. I do not want her to be under any delusions. I am neither nice nor am I full of sugar and spice and foolish optimism.
“why do you have that face?”
“what? This? This is my face now. Isn’t this how my face was when you met me?”
She is smiling and shaking her head.
“why are you shaking your head?”
“because you’re trying so desperately to pick a fight and I refuse to make it that easy for you to walk away. You want to fight? Announce it to me. Tell me you want to fight. Tell me you can’t handle happiness. Tell me it scares you to feel so much, to not not care. Tell me you are terrified to be human, vulnerable. Tell me, OV”
Another thing I failed to mention is that Koye never raises her voice. I remember thinking how wise she was only two weeks after meeting her and while I now know that she is indeed wise, I am now also certain that her voice creates that idea the second you talk to her. It is the fact that her voice barely rises an octave when she tries to make a point and even when she’s upset, you can only tell because the smile leaves her eyes and she squints just a little as she talks. Her voice is the same; soothing, even, sure, warm as an embrace.
“and if I say I am? What then?”
“then you are. Then we deal with it as best as we can”
I am not relieved. My heart starts to beat faster, because one of the advantages of non-involvement is that you never have to confront anything, and now she uses words like “deal with it” and my pulse starts to race. She places her hand on my neck and it takes me about three second to understand that she’s checking my pulse.
“it is you” I say.
Koye has a younger sister. They’re about nine months apart and they look like they could be twins. Koye has a scar in the spot where her jawline meets her ear. She calls it her Koye-mark. When she was twelve, she gave it to herself because she hated it when one of her aunts used to pretend to not be able to tell them apart. She still does not understand why she did it because she says she loves that her sister looks like her. I think she hated the condescension, because every time she tells the story she says
“I was twelve! And she always said “ooh is that Koye or Gbemi? Hmm I can’t tell”
So I say, “Koye, I can’t be the man you want or deserve”
“what do I deserve?”
“Vulnerability. You want a human, you…”
I will never understand women, because I am still speaking when she starts to laugh.
‘Don’t be condescending, Ovu. It’s not a nice look”
People say love is giving someone the power to hurt you and trusting them not to. I think that power is letting people know you until your minds are inextricably linked. It is this knowledge that makes people unforgettable, because you can’t even buy ice cream without thinking “ooh, I’m sure Koye would want to try “cookie crumble” and you can’t listen to Mumford and Sons without thinking “this is Koye’s favorite song” or watch “Pretty Woman” without hearing her commentary in the background.
Is this what love is?
“I love you. I want you to continue to be my light. I want to continue to be the one who tells you the truth even when you think it’s a vignette to your clean optimism”
Koye sighs and shakes her head.
“you are such a weirdo. Please let’s go”
In the car, she starts to play “White Blank Page” and it’s hard not to smile. I can’t recognize myself these days.