Life In An Album IV: The Best Of Sade
This article was first published in June 2017.
Nori and I didn’t seem to have much in common when we first met, except we were both working at the same law firm, in the same small office. Nori was a legal secretary and I was a summer intern. She was a Filipino immigrant probably in her early to mid thirties; I was a Nigerian-American fresh to the twenties. She commuted daily to the office from metro area Maryland, and I lived in downtown Washington, D.C. where I was attending law school. We traded pleasantries daily whenever we got into the office, made small talk here and there, and then put our earphones in and got to work.
Nori always had her earphones in: when she walked into the office, as much as she could while she was in the office and as soon as we closed for the day. So much so that someone in the office once teased her: “How will you ever find a man? There could be a man checking you out on the train but he would be wary because of your earphones, or you might not even hear him if he tried to talk to you!” We all laughed.
One afternoon, while we plodded our way through immigration case files, I asked Nori what she was listening to on her desktop. “I’m listening to a Sade station on Pandora,” she replied.
“Oh my God! I’m listening to a Sade station on Pandora too!” I said, pointing to my laptop.
We started to talk about which Sade songs were our favorite, and about how Sade was our favorite. It was the summer of 2010: I had survived the first year of law school, and The Best of Sade was my calm after the storm. I asked Nori to take out her earphones so we could listen to the station together in the office. We were the only ones in the office and often worked late. “Smooth Operator” came on and we sang together: City lights and business nights…No place for beginners or sensitive hearts. Sade was talking about love, but she could have very well been talking about life in a law firm. We sang coast to coast, LA to Chicago, western male/Across the north and south, to Key Largo, love for sale with Sade, and burst into laughter. It was my favorite part of Smooth Operator, and apparently, Nori’s too. And in that very moment, a real friendship was formed: in Sade’s music, we had found common ground.
Over the next few weeks, we stopped using our earphones as much and listened to Sade together as we worked on our various assignments. We talked about small things, like how we would much rather be outside enjoying the D.C. summer—particularly when we opened the office windows in the afternoon, and the smell of French fries and chatter from happy hour would reach us from the restaurant on the ground floor of our building. Sade’s music was our consolation prize... our piece of summer...our peace in summer.
We talked about big things too. Nori told me about why she had relocated from the Philippines to the US. She told me about living with her sister, a single mom, and her sister’s children. She told me about how her sister had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness. Nori told me about how terrified she was, because she did not know what she would do if something happened to her sister. She told me music was her escape.
As my summer internship slowly came to an end, I saw Nori get more worried every day. I tried to reassure her by telling her everything would be okay. On the last day of my internship, my boss, Nori and I held hands and prayed together. Nori’s hands were trembling. I wished I could offer more than platitudes and prayer, but prayer was the best I had to offer. I prayed for peace.
I left the next day for South Africa where I would be meeting up with my mother for a mini-vacation. As soon as I got back to the U.S. a few weeks later, I turned on my phone and saw a text message and a voicemail from Nori: “Please call me Blessing. I feel so worried.” I tried to call her back immediately but her phone had been disconnected. I called our boss, who told me Nori had died. Nori was discovered dead in her bed. The only detail of her death I know is this: her earphones were in her ears when she was found.
I do not know what Nori was listening to in her final hours. I can only imagine Sade was on the playlist. And I hope in those final hours, in the worst moments, something from The Best of Sade brought her solace and escape—one last time.
Good times they come and they go / Never going to know / What fate is going to blow.
Read the full Life In An Album Series HERE.