It all started as a joke.
I was one of a set of graduate trainees, or GTs as we were more commonly referred to. Fresh from the classrooms of a secondary school in Northern Nigeria thanks to NYSC, I did not know what to expect on the job.
Fifty-four of us got in and, for the first few days of our orientation, the other GTs were a blur of brown skin, formal clothes and a muddle of voices each trying to assert themselves.
By the next week cliques were formed and the rumour mills started.
I heard of Rolayo before I met her.
I was at lunch, at a table with three of the GTs. I had earphones on to discourage conversation, but no music was playing.
‘See her,’ one of the girls at the table pointed her chin at someone behind me. I almost turned. The other two did. ‘She will be carrying body as if no o, she’s better than everyone else here. I heard she’s a single mom. She has a daughter.’
I buried my face into my plate of spaghetti.
‘Stop it.’ The guy to my right chided her. ‘Daughter? How?’
‘I don’t know sha, I just heard that it’s as if she doesn’t know the father of the baby.’
‘I’m telling you.’ Miss Information insisted.
That was the first thing I learnt about Rolayo. During the course of the program we worked in different departments, but our paths crossed a few times, and the more I spoke with her, the more I realised there was to her. As for her daughter, the father’s family did not approve of Rolayo and he was tied to his mother’s apron strings – or maybe the father’s purse string.
I am not one to judge, but I felt he must have been crazy to walk away from her.
Rolayo is one of those people who, once you let them in your life, want to take over and mother you – usually without your permission. I always teased her that she was created to be a mother of many nations. Her full breasts and wide hips did not hurt. I had seen people’s eyes glaze over, their mouths hanging open only closing when they swallowed; seen throats bob and heard sentences cut short because Rolayo walked into a room or walked past. Men or women, it did not matter.
The years passed and we became pretty close in the way I get close to people – in cycles. Best friend and chat buddy today, spells of silence, and then best buddies again.
It was during one of our best buddies phase that she sprung it on me.
I had just come out of a relationship, my second or third in the two years I had known Rolayo. We were at lunch and she was sitting opposite me, listening as I gave her the details of this break up.
‘Bobo,’ she said not looking at me, ‘let me be your Sugar mommy.’
I almost swallowed the spoon in my mouth.
‘What?’ I asked when my choking subsided.
‘I said let me be your Sugar mommy, you’re acting brand new.’ a smile played around her lips, in her ayes though, there was a faraway look.
It’s not that I had never thought of Rolayo that way, it was impossible not to. It’s just that she’s out of my league, way out of my league.
On some Mondays when she regaled me with stories of owambes that she attended during the weekend, her narrative was usually peppered with names of people I only saw on tv or in society gossip magazines – not that I read those – and not the new money names. No.
She didn’t name them the way one would if dropping names for effect, she said them in a by-the way manner.
Her ensemble at these parties could pay my house.
So, as I sat across from her in the office canteen, I realised that, despite our closeness in age, she probably could very easily be my benefactor in the way that Sugar Mommies are rumoured to be.
But still, it was Rolayo.