FOR A COUPLE of weeks I couldn’t eat or sleep properly. Certainly, I was astounded by the unexpected turn of events. Is this real – or am I trapped in some demented nightmare? I wondered, severally.
Before this time I’d often wondered how it felt to be heartbroken by a loved one. Now I knew firsthand. I felt like my heart was in fragments – a million and one fragments.
Most of the time I was restless; and there were times I cried, bitterly. My world had been turned topsy-turvy. Once or twice I even contemplated suicide. How could Rachael do this to me? Why did Rachael do this to me? I thought repeatedly. An expression I once read in a magazine flashed constantly through my mind. It read: sometimes the good guys get the bad girls while the bad guys get the good girls. The former rang true in my case.
My parents, siblings and friends did their best to console me. At first it wasn’t easy, given the fact that I was dying in sorrow’s mire. But eventually I gradually began to pick up the broken pieces of my life.
Then, most unexpectedly, and I can’t quite recall how or when exactly that happened, the gloom I felt metamorphosed into blinding rage. I was angry at myself for letting Rachael play me for a fool. And I was angrier at her for doing so.
Who the hell is she?
Pretty soon the indignation I felt for her gave way to hate, unalloyed hate. I knew this was wrong, but I just couldn’t help feeling it. People, especially my mother, cautioned me against feeling this way, but I ignored them. Who are they to tell me not to hate her? Not to despise her? Can they even fathom just how deep my love for Rachael was? The sacrifices I’d made for her? And how deeply betrayed I feel?
Against my religious convictions I wished all manner of ills on Rachael. I went to bed and woke up pouring imprecations on her. The downside was: my hatred was slowly eating away at me; I lost my appetite and soon began to lose weight. But I wouldn’t let up; I wouldn’t let go; I wouldn’t forgive her.
I later learned that none of Rachael’s friends, and even course mates, knew she had got married. It was unbelievable! There were times I wondered if I really knew who Rachael was at all. I never knew she was that cold-hearted. I continued to loathe her, and loathe her – until one night.
That night, for some strange reason, I fell peacefully asleep for the first time in a long while. And I had an odd dream. In it I found myself in a colossal and tastefully furnished all-white-coloured office, seated opposite a man behind a massive crystalline table. I couldn’t see the man’s face because a very bright light shone directly on it. Something told me he was no ordinary man. I had to shield my eyes, with both hands, owing to the occlusion caused by the dazzling light.
Suddenly, the strange being, in a deep arresting voice, spoke to me – and he went straight to the point. “My dear Fred, you and I do not have much time together. Therefore I need you to listen very carefully to all I’m about to say. I know you’re hurting deeply on the inside because your love was spurned. You’re angry, very angry, at the object of your pain. I know. I understand. Believe me, I do. But, I want to assure you that if you keep on hating her, then that negative emotion will only end up destroying you. And you’re better than that, Fred; I created you far better than that.”
The strange man paused briefly. “Fred, I want you to forgive her.”
What?! Forgive who? I thought intensely. You must be joking! Never!
“Don’t think that.”
Don’t think…wait…how did he…?
“Yes, I can read your thoughts. But let’s not go into all that.” The man sighed. “Fred, I need you to forgive Rachael. You need you to forgive her. I know what I’m asking you to do is difficult. But I also know it is not impossible.”
The man placed both hands on his enormous table and leaned slightly forward. I leaned backwards, as far as I could, as the light around the man’s face beamed brighter than ever. “Listen, Fred, if you forgive her, then I promise you this: I will compensate you with your true love. So, do the right thing, my son. Forgive her…”
And, then, in an instant, everything turned pitch-dark, like the floodlights went out at a stadium, and I woke up instantly.
I sat up in bed and thought about the dream I just had. In the end, as the fire of its reality burned deep within me, I could only draw one, rather peculiar, conclusion: this dream is a revelation from God. And He wants me to forgive Rachael.
I don’t know about you; but it is one thing for people to counsel you to do something; but the game changes radically when the Big Guy upstairs lends His voice to the same matter. Why wouldn’t you listen? I would. And I did.
I climbed down from my bed, fell to my knees, and asked Him to help me forgive Rachael, because, humanly speaking, I couldn’t…as I was well-secured in hate’s dungeon. I prayed solemnly for several minutes, and then, out of the blue, I felt light, very light indeed. It was as if a heavy load, like a great stone, had been lifted off my heart. I felt relief. I felt free. It was simply glorious!
The second semester results were later released and, as expected, I finished not only with a first class, but also as the overall best graduating UNILAG student for that year. And, aside from the numerous monetary prizes I received, I also earned a fully-sponsored Federal and State Governments’ scholarship to study for my Masters Degree in any university of my choice, in any country of my choice. That saved my parents the money they had saved up for that very purpose. My family, friends, and other well-wishers were elated. We had a little celebration at our house.
Four months later I received my call-up letter, and travelled down to Cross River State for my NYSC program. On completing it I got the lucrative job I earlier mentioned. A year and half later I married my beautiful wife, Nkoli by name, who I was most fortunate to meet during my Service Year. Nkoli brought love and light back into my life. She is, in every way, amazing – my perfect divine compensation.
Four years into our marriage I accompanied her to the hospital on one of her antenatal visits. She was pregnant with our second son. I waited for her at the reception hall while she went in to see her gynaecologist.
Barely five minutes after she left a woman walked into the hospital. She was dressed in a red, long-sleeve blouse, worn over a long black skirt and a pair of brown, flat-heeled shoes. The woman looked quite emaciated and haggard. But there was something oddly familiar about her.
As she slowly approached the reception desk – where some nurses on duty stood, chatting as they made entries in their log books – I, cooking with curiosity, looked closely at her.
Oh, my God! It can’t be! It just can’t be!
But it was.
The thin woman was Rachael! I was stunned. I blinked to ascertain the fact that my eyes were actually seeing who I thought they were seeing. And yes, it was Rachael!
To be triple sure, I rose to my feet and walked towards her. When I got close enough I called her name. She stopped in her tracks, turned slowly, and sent her gaze my way.
The moment all the pieces of recognition articulated perfectly in her mind, her expression registered unrestrained unbelief. “F…Fr…Fred,” she said weakly.
Without a shred of doubt it was Rachael. I could fully see her face now. And what I saw really broke my heart. What happened to her? Her once lovely eyes were weak and sunken. Her cheek bones were barely restrained from protruding by her gaunt flesh. Her lips were bruised. A big ugly scar arced over her right eyebrow. Her face also bore two or three more, smaller, scars. Her once beautiful and curvaceous body was gone. In its place was a bony, withered, frame.
How could she have changed drastically…in less than ten years?
After calling my name Rachael broke down in tears. The nurses, and other people, at the reception hall wore puzzled looks as they observed the both of us. I held Rachael gently and steered her to a corner of the hall where we could be alone.
We sat down, and she now told me her story in between sobs. She and her husband had relocated to South Africa immediately after their wedding. Regrettably, the man had turned out to be a committed wife-beater, and a chronic womaniser.
Every attempt Rachael made to make the marriage work…crumbled.
Sadly, the man eventually infected her with the dreaded HIV/AIDS virus. She tested positive about eight months back. She divorced him and returned to Nigeria where she had been living for several months. Severally she wanted to call, and apologise for hurting, me. But she couldn’t bring herself together to do so – especially after she learnt I was married.
She came to the hospital that morning to complain to the doctor that some of the Anti-Retro Viral drugs she was taking were reacting negatively in her body system. She tearfully pleaded with me to forgive her.
When she was done talking I didn’t exactly know how to respond, at first; exactly what to say to her. I felt really sorry for her; seeing her in such a pathetic condition. Eventually I simply told her I had forgiven her. I told her not to despair…that nothing, including her HIV status, was beyond remedy. I mean, what else was I supposed to say?
Lucky for me, Nkoli came out at this point, and scanned the hall, looking for me. Greatly relieved, I instantly signalled to her, and she came over. I introduced both women to each other. My wife, of course, already knew all about my past relationship with Rachael. I hadn’t hidden a single detail from her. That’s what you do with your true love. Isn’t it?
After chatting for a couple of minutes Nkoli and I left the hospital with the promise to keep in touch with Rachael – a promise we couldn’t keep, because a week later Rachael was found dead on a couch in her living room. A detailed investigation soon revealed she had deliberately overdosed on antidepressant pills.
© Ikenna Igwe