WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LOVE?
All I ever wanted was someone to love until I met her and it challenged and then humbled me in ways life shows its extremes to a growing child with wild dreams. People say that the beauty of love is in the turbulence, in the uncertainties, in the dark clouds with a peeping ray of sunshine beneath, in the odds of getting your heart wrenched any moment. Others might, but I see no beauty in mixed signals, I see no beauty in a love like cracked glass. I see no beauty in superficial loves, in love that withholds much — only giving out a part. How can one tell of their love for another and in the same breath say it’s paltry? If love could be paltry how do we measure it? Do we measure love in kegs like palm wine, say, “baby, I love you with three undiluted kegs?” Could it because of the chemistry between two persons be put in test tubes and measured in laboratories? If so, then, what should be the S.I unit of love? J/cm²? Could one decide to love some persons with a teaspoon of love and others with a bucketful? Is love something we can rear, like livestock? “Hey, Zee, I’d like if we could rear our love for two years.” Perhaps, love could be grown like seed crops that germinates over time, or like flowers that are cross pollinated. In the market one might be privy to hear, “you need the pollen grains of love to pollinate your relationship, come and buy for chikili money.” If this isn’t, what then is love, so we can quantify it and tell when it’s enough or paltry? With this knowledge we can either walk away or decide to continue fanning love’s embers.
You need to know this so you won’t be in for a rude shock like me. While I was trying to add dry woods to fuel the flames of love an unannounced rain fell and doused everything. The rain from Zainab reads: “I love you Priye except it’s not enough, it’s so paltry it makes me cringe a times. Grossly insufficient, of course, I love you. Just not in the way you deserved to be loved and I can’t put you through that. That would be injustice.” I tried to find my tongue while reading the contents, and in my mind my voice sounded like T-Pain that slammed his testicles on a car door.
Zainab and I officially started conversing on the night of Monday, July the 3rd, 2017, my sparsely inputted diary tells me. It began thus:
“Slides out of her Dm.”
“Pssshhhhh, bolts the door.”
“What’s doing this one? Allow me out!”
“Small play you be outchea wildin.’ Where do you want to go?”
The chat which became promising a few lines in, hinted much, by the time we bade our good nights, which was actually good morning for we chatted past the 00 hour, I was already feeling the six-months relationship blues. By the end of the week she had jokingly proposed to marry me, and we had been calling each other at least every other day for minutes MTN and Glo would smile at. Those early times I don’t think I went two whole days without hearing from Zainab. It would almost be suicidal not to. We called more than we texted because chatting rarely does it when two hearts are connected. Many of our talks cannot be filled under irrelevant, despite our sarcastic, end-to-end bantering. We talked about writing, by the way Zainab was and still is a fantastic writer. We talked music, about Jon Bellion, about our mutual love for Burna Boy and how he was criminally underrated. We talked quite a lot on many female related issues. Because I’m quite vast in female knowledge I also had a lot of women in the salon and hairdresser moment with Zainab; talking about ball gowns, makeup tutorials, matte and shiny colours for the face, and on grave issues too, especially prevailing FGM practices in Africa.
When we were not talking on the things above she’d try to get under my skin to make me jealous with gist about some cute medical student she stumbled on at the library and how she hope to stumble on him in the coming days. Other times, she would send a Derek Walcott’s Love After Love poem or a James Arthur Say You Won’t Let Go song. On days we were so busy not to have our usual daily correspondence I’ll be tucked into bed with a warm “How was your day, just checkin’ on you,” text with an XXX or LOML as footnote. It would be inhuman not to fall in love with someone who does these things.
Zainab is the archetypal lover girl in stories where she has many suitors who are willing to defy the laws of physics to have her, but is confused on who to choose. In the end she chooses none because she feels, either things are being rushed or afraid of committing to one. To her, commitment is as big as love itself. I may not know in significant amounts about love but I do know that it is a little change in the principle of things; it’s so paltry, I agree with Zainab. There must be other condiments to sweeten the deal such as the willingness to commit wholly, the time and resource investment, belief systems, the tweaking of characters to accommodate flaws, prides and egos. You may not want to agree, but I’ll tell you, Love Is Never Enough. It’s funny, how it stresses us up even with someone we’ve never seen.
By providence, Karma or Kismet, whatever you call it, I was posted to do my national service in Kogi, the state where Zainab schools. Things were shaping out to be the love story Netflix would’ve considered buying until they went a little bit Game Of Thrones towards the end. The usual kamikaze love became cautious, things became a little bit real, especially words. Now I miss you is not just ‘I miss you,’ because the distance has been significantly bridged and one might want to do something about those words. The safety and comfort of loving someone from afar is no longer there, commitment is now at home. I think that’s the moment one sits and ask themselves some serious questions like: Do I really love this person? Does this love marry with my needs? Am I really up for this relationship, despite love? This assessment help determines the score card. The verdict on my score card was Paltry! Not enough!
It wasn’t a state of “oh my goodness, this is so shocking, I didn’t expect that.” I didn’t expect a rejection in the common sense that no one goes to fish and expects not a catch, that would be ridiculous. As much as I wasn’t expecting a rejection, I was in it hoping, rather than expecting. And when the rains came dousing everything, I didn’t sulk and have sleepless nights. I wasn’t bitter, in fact, things didn’t change much between us. It didn’t change the way I feel about her, it didn’t change my opinions of her. She didn’t suddenly become a bad person and I didn’t turn my social media feeds into a place of love quotes and heart break themed messages. A few things changed though, of course a few things have to; I’m not stupid as moths to flame. First, the calls, which was already on a steady decline like the rains approaching the dry season. Calls came in as regular as a menstrual cycle, the network providers were now on a lean diet. The few times we talked it became mechanical; like we were stringing independent clauses to form a sentence. The banters and jibes became less personal and less animated. There were also zero interests in giving unsolicited gist as endearments scampered to the backseat. Chats turned programmed and monosyllabic: “How’re you?” “I’m doing great. You?”. “I’m good, never been better.” “Okay.”
Zainab no longer called to share a gist, complain, or sob at things beyond her control. She didn’t call or text to check up on my day anymore. I was guilty of these also. I hardly place a call except it’s a necessity, during exam seasons, to inquire about something or her birthday. Even the last birthday call was less unaffectionately dramatic compared to the previous where I had five of my friends call to wish her on my behalf. Zephyr called while on the airwaves in Yenegoa, Emmanuel presumably placed a call from Lagos, Sotonye and I were in Port Harcourt at the time when I made him call her. Gift placed a call from Owerri and Chinelo took out time from court duties to call from Anambra.
Despite the close proximity, it took a further six months to schedule a visit to her school. I nearly canceled the journey because I became less enthusiastic in the meeting. It’s to be expected when love has become paltry, but I couldn’t renege on the promise of meeting her. I arrived quite late, about 9pm, the temperature on my phone read 25°C, the perfect energy sapping humid condition to hold any meaningful conversation. Zainab didn’t pose the body language of a lover when I arrived, yet it didn’t stop us from having an intimate encounter. We talked handsomely into the night, skirting around issues that had to do with matters of the heart. I thought Zainab will be shy at my presence, that it will be a staring contest or trying not to catch each other’s eye contest but there was nothing of such. To my surprise, she was a talker who oozed charisma from every pore of her skin, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me because she was quite some animated talker on the phone too. One can’t tell with people who are great conversationalist on phone, but in reality are mute as a stuffed doll. Zainab was nothing of such, she was the initiator of conversations that bothers and borders mostly around complaints, never dwelling too long on a subject, always travelling to the next issue and the issue after that, then a momentary silence to invite my thoughts, but only briefly, until she collects the words as they escape my lips and resume the process again. Her level of extra is something everyone can get behind. I was enthralled. Uncharacteristically, I became the shy one.
The eve before I left for my base, we decided to explore the town a little. Tagging along was her pretty, light skinned cousin; perhaps shy, perhaps the proverbial chicken in a new town standing on one feet — I may never know more than the perhapses. It was a long trek, I had no clue Zainab and her cousin doubles as human camels, for I was used to flying bikes and Keke Napep’s over short distances. Mind you, I’d prefer threesome over foursome, anywhere, anytime, but at dusk, during the marathon trek, Zainab called a friend, Mustapha, to balance the equation. His presence wiped the smile off my face. At first he was welcoming, but he began to take the route of a colonial master. I don’t like anyone colonizing any girl I am talking with, especially when we’re in a group of sorts. It’s either you’re talking to us all or to no one. He took the opportunity to flex his flirty skills as we stroll down the streets to where we could have barbecue fish and cold drinks. It was obvious he had some stake in Zainab, maybe love, maybe something else. We took our seats, as expected, Mustapha sat next to Zainab while Zainab’s cousin who hardly voices a word sat next to me. Zainab was far away from me and my charm.
They were practicing Muslims so they ordered malt drinks. I wasn’t a practicing Christian so I ordered a Medium Stout, nearly asked for two bottles but I resisted the urge to display my pub skills too keenly. Her cousin took to malt too, another malt loving Christian. We had steamy hot barbecue fishes placed before us. I would have preferred eating with Zainab, but Mustapha took my place so I shared with the cousin sister, occasionally taking pieces of fish to mouth to avoid frothing. He was quite such a daring man, eating and feasting on my money and engaging mostly my girl, taxing the last bar of patience I reserved only for beating criminals. It was a Mustapha show, he was bossing everywhere the discussion went, even spoiling for an argument; I’d rather throw in an elbow than grant him an argument. We were all talking but I can’t recall the talks we had. We were all talkers except Zainab’s cousin.
On our way home late into the night, Mustapha, who I presumed must have ran out of TED talks to give let me be with Zainab for the first time since his arrival. Fingers linked, Zainab and I were a couple of paces ahead her cousin and Mustapha, who had found his tongue again. I didn’t talk much, only asking questions that led to more questions like a Bible study class, listening to Zainab preach almost animatedly, in rising and falling syllables, about her past relationships and how things usually went south. One weird piece of trivia about me is that I’m always the rebound guy, it’s like a job without pay. Girls get their heart broken and come to me, like Jesus I heal them, show them enough love to repair their broken hearts, initiate dates, act as a surrogate boyfriend, but never fully committing myself to it. It’s a win-win, I experience what’s like to be in a relationship, the other gets their broken hearts repaired, ready to be broken again and rebound again if needs be. I get it, I’m not a good person; thank you for that. But Zainab wasn’t in need of a rebound guy, she was clearly in need of no one but herself.
We stood alone at the entrance leading to her apartment having a gist; for a shy girl, she laughed as much as she talked. Her laughter cool and refreshing as the night’s breeze. We were having a connection just like old times. Love? I don’t know much about love anymore. If you have a lover all you think about is loving them. If you are loving them, all you think about is loving them. I don’t think I thought about her that much anymore, you know things changed. I think her stance made me shift my stance too. Forget those “if you love someone you’ll never let go of them” shit. If you love someone that doesn’t fully love you; at some point you’ve got to let go because that’s the right thing to do. You can’t continue investing yourself into something that will never be. Few things are more painful than unrequited love. Okay, that’s enough motivational talk from me. Lest I forget, Mustafa is now a close Gee, so much that he planned on coming to spend time with me in Port Harcourt for Bole Festival, this August. Zainab and I not so much.
It was bliss Zainab and I were left unchaperoned; talking, without Mustapha punctuating our talks or her cousin’s muted presence. The moon acting as a backdrop shone upon the landscape, trees billow in the wind, a promiscuous company of guys and girls littered around; probably engaging in fornicating gossip. It was almost the perfect scene of a village square in an Igbo folklore, barely missing the stereotypical young teenage boys in a shirtless attire, with beautiful maidens in colourful waist beads and a tale teller sitting beside a bonfire, regaling the younglings folktales of moral significance. In such conditions when the moon has come to play, my tongue often loosens itself from its knot, and more than always engage in a productive talk with a female who makes my heart dance, but I bid it not. Once a no to me is always going to be a no, so I never bothered lighting up a candle to rekindle any hope of having her. Besides, I didn’t intend experiencing another metaphorical slap on the face.