It was a night out with Tunde, my boyfriend of three years. He was supposed to meet me at the bar at 8 pm but it has been 45 minutes and he still hasn’t arrived. Normally this would have been one of those nights where Tunde comes up with the perfect apology and it turns out to be a nice night, but no that didn’t happen. Instead, some strange man who saw me sitting alone all night decides to come over.
“My name is Sowande Oyedeji.”
“Oh, okay,” I replied, unable to come up with anything nicer in the moment.
“I see you don’t know who I am,” he paused before continuing. “You see, I’m a sculptor and I love to carve pretty things.”
“Oh, okay…” again, unable to come up with anything nicer in the moment.
He seemed arrogant but at the same time still shy, a rather disturbing contrast. Finally, he summoned the courage to ask if I would like a drink just as Tunde walked in. Tunde’s arrival would solve my problem of this stranger’s presence, or at least that was what I thought.
It turned out the shy weirdo was a renowned artist and even Tunde knew the title to some of his pieces by heart. What normally would have been a lovely night turned out to be a night that refused to end.
On the drive back home the smile on Tunde’s face was suffocating. He wouldn’t shut up about his excitement. “I still can’t believe it. I just had drinks with Sowande Oyedeji. Sweetheart, isn’t it crazy?”
“Well… I wanted a drink with you,” I replied.
“Darling, I’m sorry. I haven’t even actually apologized for coming that late.”
“Never mind. It’s alright. I just want to go home now.”
“Do you want me to come in to explain to Grandma why you are this late?”
“No, she knows already I’m supposed to go out with you.”
“And you did.”
“Did you hear his invite? He wants to have us over for dinner. He wants to carve you.”
“And you will do so well when you tell him I’m not a model.”
“C’mon Oyinyenchi…” he began saying when I interrupted. “Please pull over. If you won’t let me breathe in your car, please stop now and let me take okada home.”
As I anticipated, he didn’t stop. God knows I wouldn’t dare to follow through either, not at this hour, not in Lagos. But at least that made it clear where I stood on the matter, or at least that was what I thought.
All through the drive home, he kept saying a lot of stuff that I didn’t really agree with, so I just stopped talking altogether. I think he got the message because he stopped bothering as well. He parked in front of my dad’s house. Normally we would sit in the back of the car and then stargaze a little bit, cuddle maybe, but that night was everything but normal. I couldn’t wait to get home and it’s almost like he too couldn’t wait for me to leave his car.
I woke up the next morning to numerous apology messages. That’s just like Tunde. Sometimes he can be so lost in himself and sometimes he can just be a real sweetheart. He promised to shut up about the whole Sowande thing. What would that make me if I couldn’t compromise once in a while for someone I love when God knows Tunde has done his own fair share of compromising. So, I texted back to tell him I would go to the dinner if he was still interested.
Two days after I agreed to go, we got an invitation. When Tunde was going on and on about dinner with Sowande Oyedeji, I didn’t think he meant dinner exclusively with Sowande but he did. It was at his house and no one else was around except me, Tunde, and surprisingly Sowande’s mom. My first impression was how could a man of that age live with his mother — doesn’t he have a wife? — but then I decided to let it go. Then there was the dining room which was just enormous and, like the rest of the house, it looked old, like very old.
His mother was a pretty old lady, who seemed a little bit sad and madly in love with her son; she wore green native attire and gold adorned her neck. She greeted us warmly with a smile, oh! Her smile! God her smile! It’s beautiful. She looked like everything I think of when I think of old age: lacking behind but with grace.
Her son though didn’t take too much of her warmth and grace. He and Tunde talked on and on about art, great artists and other stuff like that. I didn’t even know Tunde knew that much about art, although he has always talked about how his first dream was acting but his father wanted a realistic future for him, like an accounting degree.
Somehow Sowande’s arrogance seemed to have preceded his shyness, or perhaps he just liked having people over to his house. He talked on and on about himself and his art which would have been okay by me but then he had to bring it up, again: “I’m quite serious about my love for carving pretty things.”
“I’m not a model,” I said firmly and turned to look at Tunde to back me up.
“She is just… she is just saying she needs time to think about it,” he said dryly.
“I think she is pretty sure about what she is saying,” Sowande’s mother spoke next. At that moment I fell in love with her even more. Sowande persisted and said I should feel free to stop by at any time so he could show me around his studio. “We would love to,” Tunde spoke again.
If things were to be turned around, if this Sowande guy wasn’t already someone Tunde admired, perhaps all of this would have stopped at the bar but because that wasn’t the case, he refused to see how condescending the matter truly was. An artist whom he has never met till like two days ago was being stubbornly particular about carving his woman.
Thankfully, Sowande’s mom ended dinner on quite a playful note about how terrible Sowande truly is at cooking.
All through the drive home, Tunde wouldn’t shut up about how big of an opportunity this is for us. How it could change our lives forever. He kept rambling on and on till finally I got fed up. “So, my safety is not a subject in this conversation?” He immediately countered that: “Sowande is a renowned artist; his reputation is all he has to lose. C’mon darling what has this guy ever done to you?”
“I like my life the way it is. I don’t need any changes, thank you.”
“What if you just go to the bleeding studio once? Just this one time and if you don’t like it, I swear I will shut up about all of it,” he said practically begging me. So, we agreed that I will go to the stupid studio just once and if I don’t like it that’s it, we agreed.
Tunde had work to attend to but since we already told him we were coming, and Tunde claimed since I’m truly the one he wanted to see, there will be no valid reason for cancelling. So I went. Immediately after I got there, he directed me to his studio which was another building on its own in the house. How big is this house really, I wondered?
Normally one wouldn’t expect an artist studio to be poorly lit, but this one was. The studio was a large but gloomy room filled with all sorts: carvings of all sizes, chisels, hammers, and many other instruments that I assumed he uses in carrying out his ritual here. I stopped for a while to look around and I couldn’t help but wonder where exactly these pretty things are that this man claimed he carves. Sure, all of this must be considered brilliant but pretty is another thing entirely — or perhaps pretty means another thing if you are rich.
I definitely won’t allow myself to be carved in this depressive style, but then I saw this one particular carving.
I don’t know what it was about that particular piece, but I understood it. I understood it immediately. I have never shown any interest in this sort of art before but there was something particular about this piece: It was medium size, big but not too big, and there was something about the face. She was smiling and at the same time, she wasn’t.
“Who’s this?” I couldn’t stop myself from asking — I had to. “Well,” he replied “that’s my younger sister, Aduke… She died last year.”
“Oh, I’m really sorry.”
“No, it’s alright… It’s not but… Just never mind,” he said wryly. I felt sorry for him but that brought my attention closer to the piece. I couldn’t leave it; I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It almost felt like I had a connection with this person, but I knew nothing about her apart from her being dead.
“So, what do you for a living, Miss Oyinyenchi?” Sowande’s voice from beside me interrupted my transfixed state.
“Me?” I jolted back to life, “I’m a hotel receptionist. I work in shifts so I might be working in the afternoon today and night tomorrow.”
“You know I’m not requesting to take up your time for nothing in return,” he said with that usual arrogance.
“Tunde mentioned something of the sort,” I replied arrogantly as well. He paused seeing I wasn’t at all moved by his suggestion, and suddenly the shyness from the first night resumed but his pride was still there; it’s two terribly contrasting images to keep of one person in your head and it didn’t help put me at ease around him.
“People have always considered me likeable. I’ve always found that discomforting and now, I meet someone that’s… that’s indifferent and it’s not quite comforting either,” he said.
“I don’t dislike you if that’s what you are driving at.”
“So, it’s modelling you have something against?”
“No, I don’t have anything against modelling. It’s just…” I ran out of words to say simply because I didn’t want to say it bluntly that I’m not interested. Or maybe because my mind was still so infatuated with Aduke’s carving that I couldn’t bring myself to agree with the conclusion I came up with earlier. He must have noticed but he didn’t push further, he merely said, “there is more to it if you are willing to.” I nodded and then he took me to the other side of the studio. And truly there was more.
“How have you made so many at this age?” Again, I couldn’t stop myself from asking.
“Well my mom is my only friend, so yeah, that helps save a lot of time,” he replied nonchalantly.
This just added to the mountain of questions I already had. How did your sister die? What was she like? Or why is your mother your only friend? Or even more frivolous, why exactly is your house this big? I had all that and more, but I chose to stomach it; we knew very little about each other and perhaps it was best we kept it that way, I thought.
Once again before I left the studio he asked if I would be coming back, to which I replied simply: “We will have to wait and see.” At that moment I don’t think I had my mind made up yet, but I was definitely getting less resistant to the idea of being carved. There was something, I know for sure, there was something that happened when I visited his studio. Say something mystical or something of that sort. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I suddenly felt this urge to go back there.
“How was it?” Tunde asked with a smile of a child. “It was alright,” I said masking my true emotions, but he knew me better than that. “C’mon I’m sure it was more than alright. Go on, spill!”
“Okay, okay,” I tapped out. “It was fancy and weird.”
“So, basically you are saying it was rich?” Tunde concluded.
“Yeah, but it wasn’t just rich weird. It was weird weird.” Tunde didn’t understand the statement but at that moment neither did I. He shunned me on the part of calling a renowned artist weird and we agreed that I will go once more to pose and see if I would at all like to continue with the process or just stop altogether — but at this time I already knew I would love to be carved and perhaps learn more about the artist.
It was a Wednesday morning when I called him. He said not to bother about checking beforehand, that he is always at home during the day. I got there, I think, around after ten.
He asked if I would like a cup of tea before we started and I politely accepted the gesture. He took me to another part of the studio that was set aside for dining purposes. He started first by telling me why he is so particular about carving me; according to him, there are “details” in my face he finds intriguing. Personally, I think that’s a weird way to tell a woman she is pretty.
He was going on about how happy he was that I have finally accepted to work with him when another piece caught my eye. This was also a woman, but the piece was a lot smaller to that of Aduke. I don’t know what it is about this sculpture, but it was screaming. I couldn’t fathom how something that’s clearly lifeless can be bursting with so much life?
“Who is that?” I caught him short of what he was saying.
“Well, that’s a friend of mine. Her name is Adenike,” he said. “Do you recognize her or something?”
“No, not at all. I’m just curious, what was her reaction to this when she saw it?”
“She didn’t get to see it. She is dead as well,” he replied flatly.
“I’m sorry…” I felt silly. “I’m really sorry. That’s the second time I’m doing that now.”
“Oh, there is no need to be,” he said laughing. “I love carving dead people.”
“You said pretty the first day at the bar.”
“Well,” he cleared his throat, “let’s just say I love carving pretty dead people.”