We hadn’t spoken in more two weeks, it worried me slightly because while we had intervals when we wouldn’t speak, this one seemed colder than all the previous gaps. We often spoke for hours, about nothing, about everything, about God and antimatter and all the things between heaven and earth. But we could not speak of Aretha Franklin.
It began in December perhaps, when in trying to explain a thing about love and wild hearts- he burst into song.
“What song is that?” I asked, slightly alarmed.
“It’s How long I’ve been waiting by Aretha Franklin”
“How does it concern the matter?” I asked, slightly peeved at the lilt in his voice when he said her name.
It soon became a regular thing, him singing an Aretha tune when we talked, even when we were just talking about Buhari.
“I’m sure if Aretha Franklin proposed to you, you would accept at once,” I would tease, but with a little anger. How dared he love her that much?
His answer was always laughter and a long-winded sermon on the virtues of listening to Aretha Franklin and how her music was going to be the only reason he would put stock in a God he had long since stopped believing in. Perhaps if Aretha was a god, he’d be her chief priest.
I do not know when my feelings about Aretha began to morph from slight irritation to jealousy. The kind of jealousy that wobbles the heart and makes the eyes burn. But jealousy was new to me, the strange thing making my veins sticky with something I was coming to recognise as the first coating of hate.
“Stop singing her songs” I would shout when he burst into yet another Aretha song.
“Ma binu Ada” was always his answer.
“But you know, I don’t see why you don’t like Aretha. She is sublime.” The next line too was regular as the sun.
I do not like being called Ada, my nearest and dearest have learned that if they must use the name to get my attention. They had to spell it instead of reading it. But him, I let him read the name, I would let him walk across the moon, walk across my kidneys even. But Aretha had to go.
He found a way to sneak her in and I grew even more ruthless in cutting her out of the meadow we built each time we, at different ends of the country, counted ceiling boards as we talked with our backs pressed on mouka foam mattresses. A time came when he stopped talking about her and perhaps, that was when I began to lose him.
When the word leaked that Aretha was ailing and people around the world were sending their love, I thought of him and worried. Many times I would remember to call him at times when I couldn’t have called, and I would make mental notes to call him when I could. But I forgot each time.
I was at my favourite restaurant waiting for my favourite food. It’s heaven on a plate- a slice of fried yam coated with eggs, egg sauce, a crunchy whole snail that I did not have to share with anyone and a cold bottle of Coca-Cola which I had to sip from a plastic cup. If I had the meal without sipping Coca-Cola from the cup, I would choke. It was a strange thing, this choking on my favourite food. Perhaps it is my village people who do not want me to flourish in this Lagos. As I collected the tray, I found that the man who’d sat at my favourite booth was walking away but something on the television mounted on the wall glued my feet to the floor.
“Aretha is dead” I whispered and the tall man with the wild hair who’d been stealing glances at me said she had just died.
I dropped the tray on the table and called him, realising as the call connected, how much I had missed him.
“I just saw something on CNN and I had to call you, well you had been on my mind this week actually”.
“Oh really, tell me what it is,” he replied.
“I can’t tell you what it is, you have to know by yourself first then we can discuss it,” I said.
“I don’t watch CNN and I’ve been very busy with work”
“I have missed you,” I said.
We talked about other things, I did not mention his Aretha, I let his voice light the corners of my heart no one else reached. As he spoke, it hit me then that if I had to describe what he was to me, it was only an Aretha song that would do- A natural woman.
When the call ended, I jammed in my earphones and selected A Natural Woman on my playlist. As the music swirled in my ears and Lagos dazzled beneath me as I watched from the glass wall that lined the booth.
I remembered the first and only time I had seen him- the two hours he had spent with me at a restaurant like this when he came to Lagos for Easter, how he had rapped enough Hausa to get the suya seller to wrap the best suya I had ever tasted, for only a thousand naira and how he had walked with me to the car with his arm on my shoulder as if I was too fragile to navigate the slightly busy street. I exhaled harshly in the booth and found that my cheeks were wet, escapee tears sliding down my cheeks. Tears for Aretha Franklin, tears for him and a fat tear for myself.
Rest In Power Aretha, you were amazing.