A smile and serenity … her gentle peace wound its soft tendrils around him from the very first moment. Tayo Akiwumi met her on the train and she remains his first love.
A story that had begun over a quarter of a century ago has finally achieved closure.
The stunning West Indian woman from Granada has compelled Akiwumi to turn author and put on paper a relationship that taught a 19-year-old that choices are what define people.
Regret too late
“We were together for nine months. When the relationship broke up, the weight of the loss and the regret was unbearable,'' he said.
Based in Dubai from 2007, Akiwumi works as the business director for a mobile-network supplier, covering the Middle East and Africa.
The 52-year-old man, married, with a daughter who's almost 5, has published his first work of fiction — Carlene: A Love Story. The book is based on his life and his journey in love.
“The first four or five chapters are true, except that her real name has a different spelling. It happened in the 1970s. The book is true to what happened but I have changed names,'' he said.
The loss of “Carlene'' drove Akiwumi to try hard to get her back. But she left the country and he didn't get closure.
The green-eyed monster
“I needed to tell her that the way we broke up … I never wanted to be mean,'' he said.
Akiwumi does not clarify the exact reason why he decided to put an end to the relationship with the real-life Carlene. In the book, however, the couple breaks up because of immature jealousy.
But what that relationship did was reveal the romance that existed in him.
“I have both a scientific and a creative side to my personality. But, with her, I realised I was also a romantic.
“She was my first true love … it was so free, so easy-going that its loss was like a sharp drop off a cliff — a wake-up call,'' Akiwumi said.
A writing enthusiast from a young age, the relationship and the choices made Akiwumi explore the idea of writing a book.
For nearly a decade after they bid goodbye to each other, he tried tracking her down. He finally succeeded while on a business trip — she had married and moved on.
“I finally talked to her and expressed my regret. It was a weight off my shoulder. We stayed in touch for a while via e-mail, she sent me pictures of her daughter and, eventually, it drifted away,'' he said.
This was in the 1990s. Over seven years later, in 1997, Akiwumi started writing about five to six pages, along with the framework of the story. After this, there was a gap of a decade.
“I wrote the rest of the story in 2007. It took me three months,'' he said.
Akiwumi was born in Nigeria and then moved to live in London, where his parents had migrated.
“I would say the spirit of the novel is African. It talks about the early years in a person's life, the frustrations and, later, alludes to the cultural complexity of a relationship between an African man and Asian woman,'' he said.
The book also has references to Dubai, as Akiwumi completed writing the book in the UAE. “Dubai is the backdrop for the protagonists,'' Akiwumi said.
He has been so encouraged by the experience of his first book that he is working on two more, which are coffee-table presentations with a lot of photography.
“I really want to take up writing as a back-up profession, because you can keep writing, regardless of how old you get,'' he said.
A love penned down
The book explores the issues two people face when they are in a relationship that cross cultures, traditions and values. Love, they say, conquers all. But sometimes it fails.
Tayo Akiwumi's debut novel focuses on the layers of one such relationship. A light read, it offers readers a wide swath of experiences.
Focussed on the Far East, the work provides quick glimpses into places extending from Nigeria to Malaysia, Thailand and Dubai.
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