The doctor’s appointment went faster than they had envisaged. It drilled the certainty they had pretended to avoid into their lives. The instruction was simple: Discontinue hydroxychloroquine and prednisolone. The prescription was simple: weekly methotrexate injection. That was all. The doctor said something different that they were not very prepared for: “This is the gold treatment and if you do not experience remission, we will just find how to live with it. It is a lifetime affliction. Good that you have a great support in Femi…” Dr. Falana pointed at Femi and continued his conversation with Funke “…ensure you run your monthly blood work and please do let me know if you have plans of getting pregnant. We will need to take you off the injection at least three months before conception”.
The ride home was quieter than Femi was comfortable with. Quiet, yet laden with unspoken words. There was a lot to be said but neither knew what was to be said and when it was appropriate.
“I have declined the project with Tosin, and asked a week leave from the HR.” Funke broke the silence. “Good thing is that she granted it unequivocally. I can rest and regain vigor and vitality before I return to work.”
“I also discussed some investment opportunities with an old friend from uni.” Funke fiddled with her purse. “I might not be able to work for too long anymore and do not desire to be a liability. So, I’m thinking of investment options.”
“You are not a liability, Funke.” Femi responded with concern “You will never be a liability. Whatever this is, we are together in it and I assure you, it is a commitment with no expiry date.”
“I love you, Femi and I appreciate your commitment thus far, but your countenance changed since the doctor’s office, and I love you enough to understand that this might be hard on you.” Funke’s voice began to quake as she fought back tears “I will hold nothing against you if you want out, babe. You deserve better.”
Femi veered the car off the road and abruptly parked. He adjusted in his seat and faced her squarely, grabbing both her hands.
“Whatever you are thinking up in your head, dear, does not represent how I feel for you.” Femi searched her eyes for assurances as he spoke “This is not just a feeling; it is a commitment. I do not want you to overthink anything. You may invest if you desire to, but even if you stopped working today, I am here for you. Whatever you saw on my face was not caused by you. I had a mild disagreement with mom before clinic and I have been replaying it in my mind.”
“Is mom fine?” Funke suddenly became concerned “What happened, Femi?”
“She auditioned two Lagos girls for me to marry, and I kicked against it.” Femi tried to give a brief summary while hiding the bone of contention so as not to make Funke feel worse than she felt.
“You mean…” Funke could not form words and tears streamed down her face.
Femi knew she could decipher what he tried to hide. Who would not? Mrs. Alao, a nurse had told her friends that a lady with systemic lupus erythematosus had cancer while trying to explain it in lay terms to them. Femi would forever live to regret discussing Funke’s autoimmune condition with his mother. He was naïve to think he could get medical advice on how to live with it and support one with no clear diagnosis. Doctors have courted rheumatoid arthritis, undifferentiated arthritis, lupus, and are back to call it rheumatoid arthritis, with a manifestation of Marfan syndrome. The tests come negative in the face of unmasked symptoms, and this has led astute doctors to confusion. Many seronegative rheumatoid arthritis patients would go on to develop antibodies over the years which changes their diagnosis to seropositive rheumatoid arthritis. However, it has been over a decade and her tests would still come back as negative, and he thought he could lean on his mother’s clinical experience for knowledge. Unfortunately, his mother weaponized the information to harass him to quit the relationship. It was not long after he realized his naivety, that he overheard her telling her friends that SLE was like cancer. Femi knew he was better off asking google for help than his medically endowed mother.
“You can blame me, Funke.” Femi lowered his voice “I should not have told her about our condition, and I will fix this. I won’t let her harass you”
“I told her as well” Funke replied with a defeated stare.
“You did?” Femi gaped.
“She asked me to pass her the juice pitcher the other day we visited. She observed that I tried to lift it with my right hand but quickly supported it with the left hand. Your mom is a smart woman” She chuckled and wiped her eyes “She later asked me in the kitchen and I told her”.
“How I wished we kept it to ourselves, dear” Femi heaved a sigh.
“Maybe we were raised to esteem respect and truthfulness” she teased.
“Maybe we should have been raised with more lessons on discretion” Femi rolled his eyes.
Funke finds it easier to live free and light, when she has no secrets and skeletons to keep buried. A beautiful personality, albeit, an easily exploited one in the real world. She began to see the wisdom in having some discretion, and giving people as much information as is necessary and they can handle. If there were to be a postgraduate course on information management, Funke would probably be the first to enroll. Perhaps, she would not learn anything more than she has learnt on information compliance at work- guarding everything jealously and knowing who has the requisite clearance for access to certain information. She might need to start classifying people in her life and assign level of access to each class, before releasing information to them.
“Babe, why are we not even married?” Femi asked out of no where as though an angel clubbed some fresh consciousness into him.
“Huh?” She was jostled out of her thoughts. She had not realized that Femi was back on the road driving. She was too young to have her memory mixed up with gaps. She will ensure she took an overdose of rest before the pressure of work resumed the following week.
“Let’s get married.”
“Femi are you asking me out? Hahaha!” Funke mimicked a laugh
“No, I’m not. I’m asking you to marry me.” He shot her a side glance.
“The difference is the same. Dhurr!” Funke rolled her eyes. “In your car? Just like that?”
“You’re so sweet, pumpkin. Don’t worry, I’ll do the surprise proposal thing later and formally ask my queen to marry me, but can we agree to get married?”
“That would be perfect, hun”
“The budget is distributed to take advantage of peak sales in the third and fourth quarter of the year.” Funke scanned the audience for unspoken consent. “However, guys, it will do us a lot of good to hit the ground running and hit a budget surplus in quarter two.”
“We have not done much in the north, and this budget my territory is supposed to churn up, is not very realistic, Funke.” Simon, the product consultant responsible for the northern territory submitted.
“Hit me with your plan.” Funke stood akimbo.
“We have launched in Kano and Abuja, aggressive campaigns with distributors and key accounts is of utmost importance.” Simon scanned the bullet points in his notepad. “I would expect some investment in Jos and Sokoto this second quarter. If we do this, we can begin to harvest returns even from states like Kaduna. I have all these mentioned in the proposal I sent.”
“Thank you, Simon.” Funke took some paces “I have reviewed your business proposal and it is brilliant. The north is my baby and we will work together to ensure a huge success in that territory. Capturing Abuja and Kano is a must. We will grind day and night to ensure that. So…” she continued “…we have increased our budget for marketing in the north. We will not only support you; I will work alongside with you on the field and we will review our progress in our monthly business meetings.”
“That’s great, Funke” Simon sounded relieved “The north delivers.”
“Lagos!” Funke turned to the Lagos team “You are the mitochondrion of this team. Any worthy challenges?”
“Traffic!”, “Apapa is a mess!”, “Driving to the island is a headache” Lagos team reeled out their environmental challenges in a rancorous chorus.
“Hahahaha” Funke laughed. “You will need to take that up with your governor”
“Tell Paris to buy us power bikes.” Tunde chimed in and everyone laughed.
“Indeed! I’m calling John right away to send power bikes specifically to Lagos team” Funke responded sarcastically. “So, Lagos, check! Southwest, Check! Port Harcourt-Uyo-Warri, check! North, I will be with you next week.” she looked up from her notepad to gain Simon’s agreement. “East! Hmm…Aba, Onitsha, Enugu, Owerri, guys, I’ll see you in two weeks. Okay?”
“Yes, ma’am!” Chike responded.
“One more thing before we disperse, guys.” Funke raised her hand to draw their attention. “Gym and spa memberships have been added to your health insurance plan.”
“Woo-hoo!” glee filled the air.
“You can say that again!” she continued “Take advantage of everything guys. We have observed that some of you have not gone for medical or dental check up in the past year. You guys work hard and have earned these entitlements. Use them” she raised her hands “Use the gym, use the spa. A healthy team is a winning team. Kapish?”
“Yes.” The team chorused.
“It’s a wrap guys! Thank you all for your active participation. Remember, we’re going hard to let the world see the stuff Nigerians are made of when we meet for the mid-year review in Kigali. If SSA is hosting, then SSA is winning. I want to see you guys celebrated and take huge chunks of the profits shared, and I believe we can.” Funke pitched.
“Yes! We can!” Ngozi chorused.
“Impossible is nothing!” Tola shouted her favorite mantra from the other end of the hall.
Funke felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, grabbed her iPad and bag, and excused herself from the hall as the team proceeded with plans to go clubbing at Quilox, Victoria island. It was Femi. He was waiting at the lounge. They had made arrangements to visit parents and family members in Lagos to announce their wedding date, and Femi figured the timing was good since Funke was in Lagos for work and all he needed to do was fly down to meet her. The arrangement was to pass the night in her hotel and begin rounds together the following day. It was important to him that they went everywhere together, presenting a solid front, so as to dissuade family members who have unpalatable commentaries to run, and to promptly address relatives who are bold enough to run them regardless. This was why Femi decided that it would defeat purpose if he went ahead to his parents’ home and Funke came from her hotel the following day to meet them.
“Hey babe!” Funke beamed with smiles as she sighted him sitting handsomely.
“See my girl doing boss things” Femi stood up to embrace her.
“You smell so fresh. Did you shower in air?” she poked him
“I was born fresh and that’s why you tripped for me” he kissed her.
“Let me get you settled in” she made to push his carry-on.
“You bet I’m not going to have you push my bag, right?” Femi objected. “Now give me your bag and lead the way, princess.”
“So, we’re doing some team bonding exercise tonight.” Funke started to fill him in as she headed to the elevator “Return flights for everyone are scheduled for tomorrow to their various destinations. The guys voted to go clubbing, so we’re headed to Quilox in about an hour. I wouldn’t know if you’d like to come.”
“Hmm…” Femi started “…if you’re asking me out on a date, you bet the answer is yes. Drinks on you.” He stuck out his tongue.
“You’re such an unserious chicken, Femi.” She drew close to him, soaking in his fragrance.
“This is why you love me and I know you want to kiss me right now, but you are resisting.”
“Elevator kiss” she whispered.
“You bet you want it” Femi kissed her passionately till the door chimed open. Thankfully, no one was standing there.