What’s Love Got To Do With It
Last night, I was down in the pits. There was a trigger, a text from Harry that I ignored, and before I could stop myself, I lurched into this senseless state of melancholy that I couldn’t get out of. I went to bed and found myself feeling like the walls were closing in on me. Tola and Mary had long gone to sleep and when I checked the time, it was 1am.
I sat by my window for a while. The bed seemed to be laid with pins and needles. It took me exactly twenty-seven minutes to decide that I needed to sleep in Jide’s bed to feel better.
I got the car key, slipped out of the house and drove all the way to Jide’s. I had not expected to find him at home. When I entered his room, he was in bed, awake and reading.
He looked at me when I walked in, showing no surprise.
“I’m getting used to this,” he said. “The impulsiveness. The spontaneity.”
He turned a page in his book.
“I understand that it’s your way of fighting your snags but can you please call me next time you want to leave your house at 2am to come see me?”
“I didn’t expect to find you here.”
“Just…call me next time.”
He didn’t understand that I did not want to burden him with my problems, that at that time of the night I just wanted to get away from the four walls of my room and it didn’t matter if I put myself in danger.
He went back to his book while I entered the bathroom for a shower. It made me feel better, the change of environment, the cool of the water. I breathed out when I turned the shower off.
These days I try not to worry about certain things even though it’s hard. I take each moment as it comes as Jide has taught me. It’s difficult to have my shortcomings and my gloom laid bare before another person but he doesn’t complain – not when I sometimes withdraw to some place to brood or when I lash out at him for no reason or even when I dive into some unexplainable mood of excitement. He’ll tell me there’s no difference between me now and the person he fell for. But I know the difference; it’s something I suffer daily. Having finally been taken off my meds, it’s hard to keep a balance.
“And that’s because you worry yourself about staying normal. Just live.”
That’s what I’m trying to do. I wish it wasn’t so darn hard. I wish my siblings would just stay out of my life for good.
I walked back into the room where it was freezing. He winched up the blanket and I stole in. He had his arms lifted to let my head rest on his chest but that wasn’t my final destination. I slid all the way down, taking his Calvin’s along. I needed something to distract me.
He didn’t protest.
And here I am this morning, tired, lazy, not willing to leave the bed for my morning out with Mary and Tola.
Jide taps me. I pretend not to hear.
“You should wake up.”
“Leave me. I want to sleep.”
“Your period is here.”
Straightaway, I throw off the bedspread I’m covered in as I jump up. True to his words, I’ve stained his bed. I look at him in shame. He’s seated at the other end, eating an apple, calm.
“I’m so sorry. I’ll clean this up immediately.”
I drag the bedspread and dash into the bathroom. I’m a bit sad that my period is here. It means the baby we’ve been planning for is not coming anytime soon. This threatens to dampen my mood but Jide appears with a pack of tampons.
“Maybe history will repeat itself,” he says and kisses lips I’ve pressed together. “I’m going to work and then off to my parents’. Will you promise me that you’ll not let your menstrual cycle or whatever it is that made you drive into the night dictate your happiness today?”
I nod, determined to act upon his words but I have no idea that somewhere in town, my evil siblings are thinking of the best way to ruin my day.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I am staggered! I simply cannot believe this.
Somebody please tell me I am not dreaming right now. Please tell me my eyes are not imagining things because I am sitting here lost, confused, shocked to my bones at the sight before me.
This is not just happening.
“Mary, you’re not saying anything.”
Of course I am not saying anything because my mouth is hanging wide open and my tongue has lost its speech. How do you expect me to speak, Ekene?!
I manage to bring my dazed eyes away from where it has been held bound and direct it to Ekene’s hand on mine. His touch is warm, yet strange on my skin.
“Please, say something. Even a ‘no’ would be a lot better than this silence.”
I take my eyes away from his hand and look into his face.
It’s a stranger’s face. I don’t know this man at all. Not his pink lips. Not his rubbery nose. Not his light-brown eyes. Not even the whole beard gang thing he has going on.
I don’t know him!
Something snaps in me and I recoil from his touch. He raises his hand, moving back a little. I pick my phone and handbag, and still maintaining my silence, I hurry to the door as if chased by a ghost.
“I need my answer in four days, Mary!” he says as I open the door. “Four days!”
I slam the darn door and half-run, half-walk my way to Honey’s house. When I get in there, I collapse into a chair in a huff and stare at Jide who is watching some TV.
“He proposed,” I say.
Jide turns down the volume of the television.
“What did you just say?”
“Ekene proposed to me.”
Jide’s reaction is one of puzzlement. He calls Honey who walks in with questioning eyes.
“What’s going on?”
“Ekene proposed to me. He got out a ring and just popped the question from nowhere.”
“For real?” She grins. “Where’s the ring?”
I blink a couple of times at her and shake the dazedness out of my head.
“What ring? You think I’d say yes to that type of proposal? First of all, he tricked me into coming to his house. There was no girlfriend there! None! Just me and him and a house that can take twenty more people. I asked him where his girlfriend was and he was like the dinner was a surprise for her and if she knew about it, the surprise would be ruined. I believed him and went ahead to cook and he stood in the kitchen the whole time, not talking, just staring at me and giving me the creeps. After I was done and served the food, he asked me to sit. He confessed that he had lied about having a girlfriend and was hoping that I’d be the one.”
Jide stopped me. “Wait, what?”
“My thoughts exactly. I now asked him, ‘Ekene, what type of creepy, by-force toasting is this that you Igbo boys like doing?’ Sorry Jide.”
“No, but seriously, have you not seen those market traders that will grab your hands and pull you, calling you stuff like ‘my wife’ ‘my color’? Ekene looked like the same thing to me! No difference! I had scarcely recovered from him calling me his girlfriend when he brought out this blinding diamond ring from nowhere, looked straight into my eyes with that his cockiness and said, ‘Mary, marry me’.”
“No way,” Jide remarked.
“I swear. He said it like that. Not ‘Mary, will you marry me?’ And he didn’t even go down on his knees!”
“And your answer?” Honey asks.
“I freaked out, Honey. In fact, I am still freaking out! See, how my heart is pounding in my chest. My tummy is even turning sef.”
Honey is laughing; Jide is equally amused.
“Why are you freaking out, though?” Honey wonders. “I’m sure you’ve met different types of men. Kene can’t be the weirdest.”
I stand up. “He is. By far, he is. I just can’t deal.”
“You like him,” Jide states. He is not asking; he sounds sure.
“Yes, boo. You. See the effect he has on you.”
“He scares me. I don’t like him, Jide. When did we meet that he’ll propose to me just like that? Abeg o! I’m sorry, Honey, I know he’s your friend but his actions today ring of all shades of ritualist behavior.”
“Then explain why a man that rich who has been around the world and has everything going for him will go and buy an expensive diamond ring and propose to a girl he hardly knows? It makes no sense! Unless he wants to use his wealth to dazzle me into marriage and then offer me as sacrifice to prolong his life.”
Honey rips apart in laughter.
“She really likes him,” Jide tells her. They both nod.
“Can you stop saying that, Jideofor?!”
“He’s getting you all worked up.”
“He is not!”
I breathe out.
“He is not.”
“I am calm. Very calm. Very, very calm. And I will repeat: I do not like Ekenedilichukwu Obiecheta.”
“Wow!” Jide sits up. “You called his full names, using the correct Igbo accent and you didn’t even stutter. Abeg, husband him.”
I am mad at Jide. I hiss and pick my handbag.
“I’m going home.”
“Why?” Honey frowns.
“All of you are annoying me. You and you and Ekene…all of you. Ekene clearly doesn’t understand the concept of boundaries and feels he can just pop a proposal from nowhere and I’ll say yes. Then instead of you two to be on my side, you’re making fun! You should all enjoy yourselves. I’m going home!”
I don’t give them an opportunity to respond. I know I am being silly but I haven’t been in this mood in a really long while. I march into the guestroom and shut the door behind me. But then I remember one vital piece of information I didn’t pass to them. I poke my head out.
“Oh, and he told me right before he asked me to be his girlfriend… he said, ‘I can have anything I want. Anything, including you.’ Can you imagine?”
“You don enter,” Jide sniggers.
“No, she has not.” Honey tries to remedy things. “Kene is just being Kene. He teases a lot and he understands boundaries, Mary. Please, don’t go. I’ll talk to him and tell him to behave. Just please, don’t go, Mary boo.”
I give a vehement shake of my head. My mind is made up.
“Okay, can you allow me speak with him first?” she requests.
“Still not changing my mind.”
Honey goes for the door and she’s out in a jiffy.
“You want to know my thoughts?” Jide asks.
“No, thank you.”
I close the door, leaving him still amused.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
“I told you not to propose to her, didn’t I?”
Ekene lets me into his house. The place is grand and spotless – as usual. The only difference from the last time I was here is the aroma of food in the air.
Ekene leaves me standing in the living room and walks to the dining area. I trudge after him and find him seated at the table, having dinner. The meal and setting is something only a professional like Mary can pull off. My tongue longs to have a taste but I’d rather listen to him explain his actions.
“You had to go freak her out, Kene. Why?”
“Well you know me, I don’t have time beating about the bush. And I’m too old to be doing boyfriend and girlfriend unlike some people I know. I learned my lesson with you. Years of my life wasted in love. Look where it got me. No more time for long talk, baby.”
I pull a chair and slide into it, my eyes catching the glitter of the controversial diamond ring as it sits in its box, untouched.
“Kene, you’re probably the closest friend I have and Mary and I pretty close; she’s an amazing person. And that was why when you told me you were crazy about her, I gave my blessing. In fact, I even dreamt about you guys getting married. I wanted you two to work but the way you’re going about it is wrong, Kene. You can’t force love. You have to…”
“Who said anything about love?”
He picks a piece of watermelon from a bowl of intricately-diced fruits and throws into his mouth. He looks at me.
“Because you’re in love you think everyone else has to go your way to maintain a happy relationship?”
“Honey, I am not looking for love. I am looking for a wife. A beautiful, godly, industrious, humble woman I can take home to my dear, old mother. Mary fits the bill. Simple. Abeg, don’t go mushing up things in her head and filling her with romantic ideas. Plus I really, really like her. Do you know she has a birthmark on her neck that is shaped like the one on my left ankle?”
I smile at him. “But you used to believe in love.”
“I still do but not love at first sight and all that nonsense about being struck by lightning and having butterflies in one’s tummy. I want to grow into my feelings.”
“Well, you have a point. I’m just saying the whole proposal thing…”
“Is medieval. I know, and that’s how I do my thing. Leave me be, abeg.”
“You scared her.”
“I’d be worried if she wasn’t scared, Hon. The way she bolted out of here was proof that she is the one. Do you know how many women would walk in here and see that ring and go nude for me? But she didn’t; she got scared and that’s why I want her.”
I stare at the ring.
“Is this the same one you got for me?”
“No. I returned that one the day I went over to your house and from outside I heard you moaning and screaming out your boyfriend’s name like he was the best thing you ever had.”
“He is.” I give Ekene a straight face.
“Well, I’m glad you’re happy.”
I pick a slice of apple and stand.
“I know Mary will say yes,” Ekene adds. “She just needs to figure things out. She likes me. Maybe not as much as I like her but she likes me. And that’s enough for me.”
“I really want you guys to work, so stop being cocky and try not to screw things up.”
“How are you these days sef?” He looks at me.
“Yeah. And he’s so amazing, and so patient, and so…”
I stop as I think of the many, beautiful ways Jide has been there for me from the moment I shared with him the story of my bipolar disorder.
“He’s an angel, Kene. And this means you have to stop being an ass to me. I have a bodyguard now.”
Ekene smirks. I tell him I’m leaving and he waves absentmindedly as he concentrates on his meal. I stroll back home with plans to talk with Mary but when I get in, Jide Informs me that she is gone.
“She says to tell you that she is sorry but she misses her home.”
I dump my sad self on Jide’s laps. His arms enfold me. I’m going to miss Mary. Tola is gone already. I have come to love both women in the short time they spent with me. Jide is right about having friends who will stand by you in dark moments. They both know about my depression and have been beside me, patient and supportive. I have had a couple of blue moments which they helped me through. The house is going to be quiet without them.
“You can come bunk with me if you need a roomie.”
Jide’s breath on my earlobe gives me goosebumps and other ideas. Too bad it’s that bloody time of the month.
Jide stares at his watch at the exact moment my phone starts to ring. I groan. I decide to let it ring out.
“You won’t pick the call?”
“Okay. Um…I have to pop back to my parents’.”
“Is everything alright? I don’t understand these family meetings you guys have been having all day.”
“Everything is fine, baby.”
“Can I come along?”
I try to read his eyes which seem kind of evasive at the moment. Jide is always open with me about everything. What is he hiding?
“Are you coming back?”
He kisses me before he leaves. Worrying about him, I stand by the window and watch until he’s out of sight. The moment he’s gone, my phone rings again. The Caller ID tells me Jane is calling for the millionth time. I know she wants to scold me for not honoring our cousin’s wedding, an occasion had no intention attending.
“Good evening, sis.”
Jane huffs on the phone. “Erhinyuse, why are you treating me like this? Fifteen times I called. Fifteen!”
“I’m sorry, sister.”
“This is not fair at all.”
“I know. And I’m sorry. I was busy.”
“Too busy for me?”
I stroll to the kitchen. I am so not in the mood to be scolded. I’m having cramps and the last thing I need is someone breathing down my neck.
“I’m sorry,” I say for the last time.
“Why didn’t you come for Sabina’s wedding?”
I open my fridge. “Well, you know… everyone else will be there and I don’t want drama. Brother already sent a text, telling me I was acting irresponsibly for not attending the wedding even though Sab and I are in the same town.”
“And what did you reply?”
I am staring at a fridge stocked with fresh fruits and salads. “Nothing.”
“That’s good. Ignore. Anyway, I want to see you.”
Immediately, red flags go up.
“You want to see me?”
“Yeah. Are you at home?”
I quickly recall a casual conversation I had with Jide two days ago about my family and how he warned me not to let any of them near me. His warning had sounded odd and when I asked why he came up with it from nowhere, he simply repeated himself and added, “If they want to visit, don’t take them to my place or yours. Bring them to my family house.”
I asked no more questions after that, finding it uncanny that at that moment we spoke, my cousin Sabina was having her traditional wedding and no doubt my siblings were present. I did not want to share that information with Jide. I felt my family issues were mine alone to handle. Just being with me was enough burden on him, although he must never hear me speak this way of myself.
“Can I come over?” Jane requests.
“Erm…I’m not at home right now…”
“I just want to drop your aso-ebi with you.”
I frown. “I don’t recall contributing for it. Or is Sab giving it out for free?”
“I paid for it to save face, okay? So tell me where you are let me hand it over to you with some other food ingredients I brought from Asaba since you have now started cooking.”
“You know what? Tell me where you are and I’ll drive over.”
“Even better. I’ll send a text.”
She goes offline and I remain standing, the light of the refrigerator in my face. I settle for a bowl of chicken salad. While I await the text, I dive in with a fork.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Jane is at some fast food restaurant as her message says. I drive there, still with no intention of informing Jide. It isn’t until I park the car in the parking lot and realize that Jane is not alone that I decide to dial his number. Annoyed, I speak to him on the phone.
“You were right about not trusting any of them,” I tell him.
“What’s going on?”
“Jane is in town. Everyone else is here as well for my cousin’s wedding. Jane told me she wanted to see me and asked me to meet her at this fast food joint. I drive here, thinking I’m meeting with her alone and you won’t believe who she’s here with!”
“Your other siblings.”
“I have a very good mind to turn this car around and go home right now, Jide! I am so pissed! She tricked me into coming here!”
“Calm down, sugar lips.”
“I trusted her.”
“I know. Just calm down and listen to me. Go and meet them. It’s safe. It’s a public place. Just go there and tell them you’d rather host them at yours–”
“Listen to me. Remember what I told you the other night?”
“Do it. Tell them you’re taking them to yours but bring them to the family house.”
“Jide, I don’t want them near your family. It will be a disaster…”
“Let me worry about that, sweetheart. Just bring them over.”
I concede, but not wholeheartedly. Imagine the shame if Harry or Jessica decide to act up in the presence of Jide’s parents.
“And take it easy on Jane.”
“She betrayed me. I’m so done with her.”
He laughs. “See you soon, sugams.”
I leave the car. Jessica is the first to spot me. The huge glass windows that act as walls do not hide what’s going on in the restaurant. I see them all looking at me. Jane is the only one with a lowered head. I grip my wallet tightly to still my nerves as I walk in. They keep their eyes on me and there is not one smile to go with their offensive stares.
I, however, maintain a poised exterior as I amble towards them.
“Good evening,” I throw in a general greeting. For a moment it seems my show of respect would be ignored by them as they used to do years ago but Harry breaks into a scary grin that halts my steps.
“Erhinyuse, my darling sister! Come and give me a hug.”
I stand frozen. Something evil crawls up my spine and fills my throat as I glare back at the same hands that abused me throughout my childhood now spread open to me in a show of love.
What on earth has this old devil up his sleeves this time around?
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
I am not sleeping. I’m sprawled on my floor, eyes to the ceiling, hands on my chest.
To watch the video or not to watch the video.
This is a rerunning dilemma in my head. I have one good reason to watch the video and an equally damning reason why I shouldn’t. Following my hysterics earlier at Honey’s house, I have decided to handle the situation with commonsense. One would think I’d toss Ekene’s proposal aside but I can’t. This video holds the reason why.
I turn around. My laptop is asleep. I tap it awake. It takes me another ten minutes or so of fighting the urge to go on YouTube. In the end, I do. I search for the video and with a palpitating heart I play it.
It’s a recording that stretches for an hour and twenty-one minutes. I should forward to the frame that mostly concerns me but I decide to watch from the beginning to calm my nerves. I sip cup after cup of green tea while I watch. I’m into my fifth cup when the video gets to the moment of truth. I sit up and clasp the cup with both hands.
“There’s a sister at the back row there!”
The voice of Peace’s pastor fills my ear, bringing nostalgia and a host of other feelings into me. My eyes stay glued on my laptop screen and I am transported back to the day the video was recorded.
Peace had invited me to her church for some program they were having at the beginning of the year. It was something they did annually. Seven days of fasting and prayers. I had begrudgingly attended; the end of last year had seen me in a terrible relationship that left me somewhat depressed. Church was the last thing I wanted but Peace assured me that I’d feel better when the program ended, and so I decided to attend just to get her off my back.
It ran for one week and finally we came to the last day, which was a Sunday. The church was packed to the rafters that morning and I had found myself somewhere at the back because I came late. The service was one of those power-charged affairs and when finally Peace’s pastor took the stage, people’s hearts were open to hear God’s word with a lot of expectations. I wasn’t one of those people. I was a tad disappointed that a whole week was wasted and I didn’t feel any better about my state. Years of failed relationships had left me bitter and resentful of the male species.
Somewhere in the middle of his sermon, the pastor stops, turns and directs his eyes straight into mine. But he says nothing and continues preaching. I tell myself I imagined the occurrence. However, towards the end of his sermon, he repeats his action and this time, he calls out.
“The sister at the back row there!”
He points. Heads turn left and right, including mine.
“The one with the green and yellow Ankara!”
Now, all eyes focus on me. There’s no one else wearing a green and yellow Ankara outfit except me. Slowly, I put my hand to my beating heart to confirm if it’s me as I rise to my feet.
“Yes, you. You have a surprise coming for you this year.”
Yeah right, my inner skeptic remarks. I have always had a strong dislike for pastors who did things like this. In my church we do not entertain such. We are more orthodox in our way of worship.
“Your husband will come this year,” the pastor continues. My inner skeptic snorts. It’s clear that I am not married because I am not wearing a ring. Please, man of God tell me something else.
And he does.
“God says to give you two signs so that you will know this message is from him because the man will come into your life and without these signs, you will throw him off.”
Okay, this is getting interesting.
“First sign: he will propose to you without any relationship going on between you two. Second sign: when he proposes, he will give you a short time to return with an answer.”
I remain a doubting Thomas.
“And God says you should say yes to him because that is your husband. He said he has made events and situations in your life align to that man. Your years of searching and frustration are not wasted years. The time was not yet set but before this year ends, you will wear a ring on your finger.”
The congregation choruses out a loud ‘amen!’ that terrifies me. I slump back into the chair, annoyed at Peace. Clearly, she told her pastor things about me.
“I did not,” she says in sincerity after the church service.
“Why would I even do such a thing, Mary?”
“Maybe out of concern.”
“Please believe me, I did not. And you know what’s even scary about what happened here today?”
“Our pastor hardly ever does what he did. He is more of a teacher than a prophet. If he prophesies in a year, it might be two or at most three times. What happened today was rare, so please take it as a message from God.”
Indeed. And that’s how I go through the year, a disbeliever, even though deep inside I know the message wasn’t a hoax. For fear of wanting it to come true, I refuse to entertain the presence of any guy. I dedicate my year chasing my career.
And then Jide returns home after five years and the feelings I once had for him are re-ignited, especially after the kiss we share. I tell myself he is the one. I speak to Peace first but she dissuades me, reminding me of her pastor’s prophecy. Ignoring her words, I share my feelings with Celia and the rest and they are only too happy to pair us up. Peace is not in support but she keeps mum and goes with the flow. When Jide brings Honey to the get-together at Celia’s and throws all of us off, only Peace shows support for their relationship. Well we all know how that story ends and how the next day, I debase myself by stripping for Jide and he gives me the tongue-lashing that I rightly deserve.
Peace’s reaction to the incidence is an ‘I told you so’.
“Shebi you will listen to God now?”
Listen to fire. I tell myself that the chances of that prophesy coming true is one in a million. I am more likely to get a yes if I propose to any random man out there than find Peace’s pastor’s dream husband for me.
I carry on with this state of mind as the months go by, oblivious of what waits for me around the corner.
Ekene is a blow to my face I don’t see coming. His proposal knocks me off balance and the after-effect still leaves me swooning. I am fighting him with everything in me and even after watching this video as a confirmation of where my life is supposedly ought to be heading, I insist on rejecting him.
“I do not like Ekene,” I say out loud. I need to believe this. I need God to hear me. “I don’t like him.”
I finish my cup of tea.
“I will not marry him.”