This is a purely FRICTIONAL* story about friendship and of what coulda been, what shoulda been, and what was not.
*Because it might rub you the right way
Part 1: Before Then
It was the year 2008 in Nigeria; I had just moved back home after completing college and was dreading it. Not because I hated home but because it was going to be my first time staying longer than a weekend in a house that my parents moved into two years prior. While having a home of our own was something of an achievement, I disliked the fact that my parents had moved us from the Mainland (Somolu area) to the hinterland (Ipaja). This meant being cut off from all the familiarity that I was used to for more than 20 years and starting over again in a strange place. To rebel against my parents and this ‘selfish’ idea of theirs, I would only come home once a month just in time to raid the pantry and head back to campus. During the holidays, I would mostly stay back on campus or travel to see other family members. After I graduated college, I had no excuse (and really no other place to live in) to stay back on campus, so I had to move all my things back home. I was determined to stick with it as I had no choice. I knew it was not going to be for too long as my pharmacy internship was to begin in February and I would have a reason to leave home once again.
Ipaja was a sharp contrast to where I grew up and where we stayed, in particular, was cut away from the fun places around the area. The houses around ours were also newly built with tall fences and gates that were so unwelcoming — just like ours. I am a sucker for intelligent conversations and was in dire need of a friend or two. I stayed at home most of the time reading books, watching Family Guy episodes, and listening to radio stations and would occasionally leave the house to go out on movie dates with my then-boyfriend. Since I was not always up to the task of driving miles and miles to my own church on Sundays, it meant I had to accompany my mum to church — MFM, which was also a far cry from my ‘give the lord a wiper’ church I used to attend on the Mainland. I also wasn’t remotely interested in doing more than the barest minimum in her church which meant I was just a seat warmer and didn’t join any groups. It was a smaller church where everyone seemed to want to know each other’s businesses. Because I also had a phobia for driving, I had to go with my mom to church and wait through all the after-Sunday meetings and the never-ending issues they always had to troubleshoot.
My life became rustic like a clockwork routine and just like the vicinity I was living in. However, this quickly changed in late November when I went to the salon for a hair appointment.
Part 2: Meeting Mai*
Not long after I moved back home, I met Mai*, who also came for her hair appointment. I remember I had seen her a couple of times in church. Our parents were friends, and that was it. I don’t know who said ‘hi’ first, but we kinda kicked it off. She was about four years younger than I was but very wizened beyond her years. She spoke sarcasm as fluently as I did and we found out that we both loved Family Guy — what are the odds?! I could almost say talking to her was talking to a 75% version of me. She also lived a couple of streets away from me and knew my siblings.
Things went quickly from there, and Mai and I became fast friends. I had taken driving lessons during that summer and ‘graduated’ top of my class, but my knowledge of driving was limited to the classroom as I would panic when left alone in the car to drive. I had gotten a car from my parents as a graduation gift, and could hardly drive it. When I told Mai about this, she thought it unacceptable and decided we’d FIX it somehow. She drove like a thug, fearlessly and would occasionally have fits of road rages — which she would deny whenever I called her out on it. Her antics on the roads were the antithesis of everything I had learned in driving school — indeed, she would have been my instructor’s nightmare. I decided to look past all these traits and borrow a courageous leaf from her — after all my vast knowledge had not helped but crippled me thus far.
I remember the first time she made me drive my car from Idi-araba to Ipaja through Oshodi with her in the front passenger seat; it was probably one of the most daring things I had ever done. I had a knack for ignoring my blindsides, and she would occasionally veer the steering wheel away from me in the nick of time lest I bumped into another car. It would be a lie if I said I was cured after that singular experience but my phobia for driving was slowly eroding, and it would not be until a few weeks’ time before I knew how much progress I had made. I took my first solo trip from Ipaja to Idi-araba through Oshodi at the busiest time of the day and made it without a scratch. I sweated profusely, and I must have burned my clutch a few times, but by Jove, I made it safely. I called Mai first to let her know about my feat, and she was so excited for me, and that made me feel proud. With Mai, I got to know about Ipaja very well and the fun places to hang out and buy ‘asun (roasted meat).’
We began to develop a rhythm where we would come over to each other’s houses and do stuff together. On the weekends, we would find places to go to together and ending that with our Sunday afternoon trips to Mr. Biggs where I would order the meat pie and slowly savor the crusts and her, the ice cream. It was the year 2009, and the Nigerian music industry was in a boon state, and together we fell in love with the crooning of Naeto C and the mellifluous, edgy raps of MI (who remains my favorite Nigerian rapper till date). In Mai, I found a friend and the age gap was not a deterrent to me as in her; I saw someone I could almost call an intellectual equal. I was in my roaring 20s and felt invincible and unbreakable and having a fearless friend made it even more so abso-flipping-lutely amazing. Life in Ipaja was getting better, and our friendship was growing stronger, what could go wrong? In retrospect, I could not have possibly imagined what would unfold in the next year.
 Not a pseudo name.
Part 3: Tiny Cracks
Sometime later in 2009, I would undergo a major procedure that left me bedridden for almost two months. I had begun working some months prior and moved out of my parent’s house to an apartment closer to my workplace. After my surgery, I moved back home to recuperate. It also meant putting my social life on hold and coping with the aftermath of a surgery that gave new definition to the word ‘coping with pain.’ I had thought I would have to stay home for a couple of weeks, but when it became apparent that I would be staying longer, I had asked my brother to grab a couple of my belongings from my apartment. He told me he wouldn’t be able to get to it until the end of the week, so Mai (who happened to be visiting me on that day) stepped in to run the errand for me promptly. I guess this made my brother a little uneasy and he decided to do it himself. My mum and I thanked Mai for wanting to help out on a whim. This albeit-turned-down help would unravel itself in more ways than we would have ever expected, maybe more for me.
Later that night, my mum got a call from Mai’s mother asking why we had sent Mai on an errand at such an odd time of the night. My mum was shocked and turned to me in confusion as we had no idea what Mai’s mum was on about. Apparently, Mai had been going out and returning home at odd hours of the night telling her parents that she was running errands for her sick friend — me. Her mum called my mum after similar repeated incidences. I felt betrayed that Mai could use me as a crutch for her nightly activities, especially knowing how sick I was. If she had told me about this beforehand, I could have, maybe, covered up for her. I confronted her about it, and she apologized and gave me a bunch of excuses. I let it slide and did not think much of it.
I should also mention here that I have always had an open relationship with my parents, especially my mum, when it comes to my outings. Unlike the stereotypical Nigerian parents, mine (especially my mother) were quite liberal about my outings as long as I made them aware of them. I had never had to lie to my mom about where I was going or whom I was with. If I had to go to the movies with my boyfriend and was running home late, all I needed to do was call her to let her know. One Saturday, I was going to my boyfriend’s house for a family party, and Mai needed a ride somewhere. Since it was on the way to my destination, I was more than happy to give her a ride there. I had gone to her house to pick her up and met her mum at home. We exchanged pleasantries and made small talk. I dropped Mai at her destination and headed to my boyfriend’s. I didn’t get home until past 11 pm, and I’d called my mum to let her know that I was on my way home. She then proceeded to ask me why I had taken Mai with me and that her mom had called looking for her. Apparently, Mai had used me once again as a crutch (without my knowledge), and it was made worse as her mom did see us drive off together not knowing I had dropped her off midway.
It was after this that I defined Mai’s behavior as not an oversight, as she had implied after the first event, but a recurring pattern. She would do a lot of things afterward, and it began to dawn on me that my cherished friend operated on a whole level of narcissism whose manifestations entailed telling lies and not taking into consideration those who might be hurt in the process. I became wary of Mai and put her on a ‘don’t easily believe’ running tab in my mind. I should also note that Mai had a knack for smooth talking which one can easily confuse with believability. I stuck around for a while hoping that some of my virtues would rub on Mai and by some stroke of perception, she would change her ways. You can probably tell by now I must have some control issues as no one can really change anyone and to that, I’d say your assertions about me are correct. There were some other minor events that ensued afterward, but these didn’t deter me from getting a clean break from Mai.
Part 4: The Breaking Straw
While in Nigeria, I’d introduced Mai to a colleague of mine which in retrospect might have been a bad idea. They seemed to have kicked it off and got along very well (too well, if you know what I mean). This would cause the girlfriend of the said-colleague to send me stinker messages and threatening phone calls accusing me of introducing Mai to her boyfriend and ruining her relationship. I talked to Mai about what I had heard, and of course, she flatly denied it. When I got so dizzy from the he-said/she-said brouhaha that was unraveling around me, I decided that it was time we all met, sat down like adults and put an end to all of these trifling scenarios. So, it was decided that Mai and I will drive down on a Sunday evening to talk with the couple.
Unbeknownst to me, Mai had other plans, and it ended up with me being the driver of the getaway car that transported the person who went to assault the girlfriend of the guy she was messing around with. To say that I was embarrassed and felt stupid at the same time would be an understatement. Just when I thought I’d figured Mai out, she unraveled herself in more ways than I could wrap my big head around — like a flipping onion! This incident damaged my relationship with my colleague who saw me as someone who urged my friend to assault his girlfriend. He had sent me a text the next day saying he had lost all iota of respect for me for what I did. I was too weak to offer any excuses to him, so I took the fall and kept mum. I guess it was my reward for having someone so shitty as my friend.
I moved out of the country a few years later and still kept in touch with Mai. I decided to go into business with her, which of course, turned out to be another foolish move as I counted more losses than gain. At one point, I had to get her mum and sister involved so I could recoup my money and goods from her but to no avail. My mum pleaded with me to let it go and count the losses as a valuable business lesson, which I acquiesced to. A few months after I relocated, I got a frantic call from Remi (not real name), one of my very close friends who also met Mai through me. They began hanging out a lot after I left. Remi had called me to ask if I had an alternative number to call Mai on as she had been trying for several days to get through to her. I told her I did not and asked her what was going on. She then proceeded to tell me that she and Mai had decided to get an apartment together and after paying a significant amount of money to Mai as rent deposit, Mai was nowhere to be found and was not responding to her phone calls.
Hurricane Mai had just struck, and this time it hit home. It was OK (maybe somewhat bearable) for Mai to have taken me for a ride by lying to and stealing from me, but it was certainly not OK for her to swindle my friend in such a manner. I had to come clean to Remi about my experience with Mai and promised her that I was going to do my best to help get her money back. It took several phone calls to some of Mai’s family members, specifically her mom and her sister to finally make some headway. Remi was able to get a smidge of her money back, and she had to let a whole chunk go. Mai had crossed a line this time around, and it was definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back. I would later learn from Remi that Mai had given her a different version of what happened that night that I had gone with Mai on my intended peacekeeping mission.
Surmise to say, Mai had told Remi that my colleague’s girlfriend was already an ex-girlfriend at the time and that she and the guy were already dating. Also, that his family and hers already approved of the relationship but because of my intense jealousy and besotted affection with my colleague, I did not want them to be together. I was amazed at this revelation and pondered to get an understanding of the perpetual lie and façade that was Mai’s life. It became evident then that Mai’s prevarication can only be explained away by her constant obsession with herself, where she lived in a world of continuous, grandiose delusions.
Part 5: When All’s Said and Done
I ceased communicating with Mai from then on and decided not to have anything to do with her. It was a clean break this time around, and there was no going back. I had often wondered why lying and stealing came so easily for Mai, especially at the expense of destroying her close relationships and damaging the trust of those who loved her. How did she pick her prey and how was she so confident that they wouldn’t publicly out her for her errant ways? Did she ever feel remorseful for committing one offense after the other? I definitely had more questions than answers when it came to Mai. More questions than I would most likely never get answers to but which didn’t stop me from asking anyway. Were any of her family members aware of this destructive trait and if they did, what steps were they taking to curb her excesses? Or did they just look away due to learned helplessness?!
It’s been almost six years since I made that decision and I think it was for the best. Recently, I touched base with Remi, and she told me that she was invited as a guest speaker by a Law school student organization of a University. It turned out that one of the show’s organizers was Mai and upon seeing Remi, she pretended not to know her. Remi made a beeline for Mai and greeted her casually, calling out her bluff. Remi said she thought about using that opportunity to create a scene, but she decided against that. Mai, on the other hand, acted very debonair about the whole thing and pretended as if nothing shoddy had ever transpired between her and Remi. That’s our Mai, working her way up to being the finest lawyer she could ever be. I guess, with her skills, she would definitely make her clients happy someday (insert lawyer/liar joke here).
Now and then, I’d think about my friendship with Mai. Did I do anything that enabled the perpetuation of her bad behaviors? When the times were good, they were really good, and I sometimes miss those days; hence, why it was a bit difficult writing about her like this. At the first sign of trouble, if I’d called her out on it and given her a stern warning letting her know what my boundaries were, could I have prevented the cascade of events that not only affected me but some of my other friends? I also wonder if she’s gotten the help that she needs or if anyone else had fallen victim to her ways, just as Remi and I had.
I would like to say that my encounter with Mai changed my life but that would be giving her too much credit than she deserves. However, she heightened my senses towards BS. I can sense BS from a mile, and this has not been helping my trust issues, especially with girlfriends. At the first sign of BS in the form of chronic lies, my spidey senses kick in, and I retreat. I don’t always get my friendships right; I seem to almost have the strangest luck with my relationships with girls overall. I’d chalk this down to being an only girl; an obdurate positioning that even six years spent in an all-girl boarding school could not ameliorate.
Having a friend like May has made me grapple with the notion that my sense of integrity and my total commitment to what I thought was friendship had been used as a weapon against me. When your very own ethos become the rope that is used to hang you, it becomes rattling. The critical self in you becomes activated, and that nags at you that those are not virtues but weaknesses. There were times when things didn’t add up, or Mai’s recount of stories did not add up, but I never came close to knowing the full details of what was actually going on. From the goodness of my heart plus my naïveté, it had never occurred to me that someone I cherished so much could be capable of so many misdeeds that were far from what I deemed reasonable behavior.
So I guess the moral(s) of the story, if there are any are:
- Thoroughly vet anyone you go into business with;
- When you are friends with someone, do it truly and properly. If you make mistakes and betray the trust of those you love, make amends and settle the issue as quickly and as best as you. At least this way, the memories they will have of you won’t be tainted, and;
- Even if you would never think of doing something in a billion years, know that there is a possibility that someone else might and they could very well be someone right in front of you who you would call your friend.