Previously on COMPOUND MATTERS…
A month has gone by and I still can’t stop thinking about that day. I’ve gone through so many emotions, they’re now all mixed up inside me and I can’t tell them apart. I’ve also discovered that misery must have invented some clichés, because my mind won’t stop reminding me of them. If only I could turn back the hands of time, no use crying over spilt milk, honesty is always the best policy, nothing stays hidden forever. Blah, blah, blah!
Chiemena hasn’t replied my pings or answered any of my calls. The temptation to ask Amarachi to plead on my behalf threatens to overwhelm me sometimes, but pride steps in to tell me that that would be foolish. I can’t count how many times my hands hovered over the phone. I wanted to call my father and wail. But something told me each time that I am growing and I need to do this on my own.
Osahon had promised to deal with me and he had – in grand style. I recalled the last time I’d seen him. It was Lucy’s house.
“You girls never get tired of talking about me,” Osahon drawled, leaning on the door frame.
“What are you doing here?” Dati and Lucy asked simultaneously.
He smirked and nodded his head like an agama lizard.
“Get out!” Lucy screamed and ran towards him. With strength we didn’t know she possessed, she shoved him out of the room and down the stairway. We followed them into the living room.
“Hey, stop it!” Osahon snarled, trying to stop his ousting. “I just came to talk about our child.”
“Which child is ours? You must be mad! Did my dad threaten your sorry behind? Is that why you’re here, you snake?” Lucy gasped, breathless from the exertion.
“You better behave, it’s for your own good,” he snapped, pushing her back a little.
That action was like a pin bursting a balloon. Dati and I rushed at him and shoved him so hard, he fell on his rump.
“See this guy o! Are you high?” asked Dati.
“Do you know she’s pregnant? Why would you push her like that? Does this look like your father’s house where you can do whatever you want?”
“You!” he said, glaring at me. “Don’t think that I’ve forgotten the stunt you pulled the other day. You dared to spit at me from that your dirty mouth. Don’t worry, I’ll deal with you.”
I can’t get over the feeling that I’m the bad guy in this drama, and not Osahon. That makes me feel like a total heel. I’ve been mulling over Chiemena’s words since that evening. Ti-Abasi may be right; I must be a commitment-phobe.
“Babe, is this true? Because I don’t believe you’d hide something like this from me,” Chiemena asked
“Sweetheart, I can explain.” My voice was so calm, not reflecting the raging storm inside me.
“Alright, explain. Explain how I’ve known you for a little over a year and you’ve never told me you had a child with this….this…fool.”
“Hey, take it easy man. I just thought I should let you know your white rose isn’t as virginal as you think,” Osahon interrupted.
“SHUT UP!” we yelled simultaneously.
“Whatever,” he said, smacking his palms on the table as he got up. “I’m out of here, man. Y’all do whatever you want to do.” He walked out of the restaurant and left me to sort out the mess he’d created.
“I didn’t have a child with him –”
“He lied or you got rid of it?” Chiemena’s eyes glinted with anger. And hope.
I stared at this man I’d come to love and didn’t have the heart to lie to his face.
“I had a miscarriage.”
“So, it’s true,” he murmured, leaning on the table.
“It was a mistake.” I touched his shoulder and he flinched. That cut me deep, deeper than anything ever had.
“I don’t care what it was. What I want to know is why you didn’t tell me.”
“Because it was in the past!”
“And yet, here it is in the present. Idara, I have bared my heart and soul to you this last few months, past and all.”
“I didn’t ask you to!” I snapped in frustration.
Seconds ticked by. It was then I noticed we had the rapt attention of the staff and the only other customer in the restaurant. If the ground had chosen to swallow me right then, it’d have been a blessing.
“Wow…” Chiemena let out a low whistle. “So that’s how it is.”
“I didn’t mean it that way, Mena. Seriously. I’m sorry.”
“Yes, you did. You know what? I’m sorry too. I’m sorry I’ve dragged you along from the first day—it’s like I forced you into this relationship. I’m sorry that the truth had to come out this way. And I’m sorry, but I can’t go on with you anymore.”
“Wha–what? What do you mean you can’t…”
“I mean we’re through. I can’t do this…this thing with you anymore. I want all of you, babe. Same way I’ve given you all of me.”
Oshe, John Legend.
“I don’t want half measures. It hurts, but I’ll understand if you can’t let go and trust me.” As tears pooled in my eyes, he got up, came round to my seat, and softly kissed my forehead.
I was so caught up in my memories that it took a while to hear the knock and someone calling my name. I couldn’t decipher who it was; I hoped it wasn’t Ti-Abasi. These days, her visits these days leave me sadder and angrier than before. She’s determined to see me through the five stages of grief as she calls it and cheer me up, whether I like it or not.
“Idara, I know you’re in there. Please open the door.”
I crept to the kitchen window and peered out. Mrs. Uzodinma was standing outside my door. Okay, that was really unexpected. What did Chiemena’s mother want with me? After all, she’d been pretty lukewarm after hearing that her son and I were officially seeing each other.
I ran back to the bed and tried to set things straight, throwing clothes haphazardly into the closet and pulling the curtain over the heap. The carpet was a mess, but there was nothing I could do about it.
“I’m coming, ma.” Then I opened the door. “Good afternoon, ma. Welcome.”
“Good afternoon, my dear.”
She came in and rather than sit on the chair, went to the mattress. I shut the door and stood there, confused. Should I sit on the chair or join her on the bed? I chose the chair.
“How are you? I haven’t seen you at the house in a while.”
“I’m well, ma. I haven’t come to the house because I’ve been a bit preoccupied with school and other stuff.”
“Other stuff like my son and you not being together anymore?”
She wasn’t going to beat about the bush, it would seem.
“Erm…Ma, I don’t know what you mean,” I lied through my very well-brushed teeth.
She laughed, very amused at my reply. “You children always forget that we old people were once young. I know all these antics, my dear. Come, sit beside me. I want to share a few things with you.”
I hesitated, unsure if I wanted to hear what she had to say. This was really awkward. Sighing in resignation, I settled beside her, making sure to keep a fair amount of space between us.
“Don’t worry, I won’t bite,” she said with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. Then she continued, “I know I haven’t been friendly ever since I found out about you and Mena. It’s not because I don’t like you. My reservations were borne out of a mother’s concern for her first son. I know a mother isn’t supposed to have favourites, but Chiemena is….he’s special to me.”
I nodded, made appropriate noises.
“I want to tell you about how my husband and I met. Perhaps it’ll help you, you know, sort out your issues.”
It sounded like it was going to be one of those long-winded stories, but I simply nodded as she began.
The timetable for the final exams came out. We had three weeks to write the three courses, a week between each paper to cram whatever was left from actual study. I went off social media completely and my interactions with the neighbours were very minimal.
Twice, Amarachi came over to study with me and it really helped. In the past, we’d alternate at each other’s houses, but not this time. Not even after she accidentally let slip that her brother had returned to the UK. After she left that evening, I reactivated my Facebook account and the first post I saw was a picture of him, checking in at Heathrow. Did I die? No. But it felt like it.
Having emotional problems and writing final year exams was one painful combo. Every day, I consciously pushed all distractions to the back of my mind and focused on why I’d come to this city. It was either that, or fail and have to explain to my parents that I’d failed my exams because I was heartbroken. Idara, heartbreak didn’t pay your fees, became my mantra.
But once in a while, those troubling thoughts and old memories would break free of their jail and intrude on my consciousness. I’d recall the casual way I dismissed the pains of others; how I believed I was far better and stronger than they.
One of such stinging recollections happened Last year. A final year female student in the Business Management department had a nervous breakdown after her beau jilted her two weeks to their final exams. This couple had won couple of the year consecutively since their first year.
“She had a nervous breakdown over a boy? A common school boyfriend? She’s not serious,” I said with a hiss.
“She loves him. Imagine being disappointed by someone you love, just when you’re at the threshold of being together permanently,” Amarachi had explained.
“Together forever ke? Have you seen the statistics of couples in the university who eventually get married after school? It’s three percent! Given those odds, why would anyone in their right mind think theirs would be different?”
“Maybe she believed they’d be among the three percent. Or maybe she doesn’t know about your statistics,” she’d said, shaking her head at me.
“Then she’s among the foolish ninety-seven percent. I bet her parents don’t even know she’s a married woman in school.”
“You know, you don’t have to understand why she built her hopes around this school relationship, as you call it. But you can at least empathize.”
“I’m empathizing. But I’m also stating the truth,” I said.
“Idara, sometimes, you can be so…”
“Never mind,” Amarachi said. “Come. Let’s go and eat rice and ofe akwu at the Old Refectory.”
Now, I cringed at the reminder of that conversation. I’d become someone ugly on the inside and it took this crisis to see that. I don’t know if I should be thankful or mourn.
Three courses to be written in three weeks! Jurisprudence was the last paper. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand anything I read. When I got to the hall, I stared at the questions for half an hour, reading and rereading. For some reason, I was too numb to panic. One of the lecturers who was invigilating noticed my inactivity.
“What’s your name?” he queried.
“Idara-Abasi Umoh, sir.”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes, sir. I’m fine.”
“If you need to nap for a few minutes, do so. Okay?”
“Okay sir. Thank you sir.”
As he walked away, I felt the sudden urge to urinate. When my bladder wouldn’t take no for an answer, I got up and went to the man, conscious of the looks from fellow students alike.
“Sir, please I need to go to the toilet,” I said. I prayed he didn’t think I was going to get some materials to cheat. Students were notorious for squirreling away textbooks, notebooks and study materials in the toilets. So no one was permitted to go there until the exams were over.
“You know it’s not allowed,” he said. Still, his gaze was filled with understanding. “You can go. But be back in two minutes.”
Two minutes was more than enough. I barely made it. After flushing, I washed my hands at the sink. As I raised my head, my reflection in the mirror stared back at me. But I didn’t recognise myself; the girl in the mirror looked so pitiful. In her eyes was such hopelessness, it broke my heart.
Right there, at the worst possible time, the dam broke. I put my face down on that sink and wept like a baby. Not even when I’d found out that I was carrying Osahon’s baby and my whole world seemed to crumble around me. The pain, fear, loss, bitterness and anger mingled with the tears and snot streaming out my nostrils.
I prayed; that I’d be a better person and that Chiemena would forgive me. I asked for the courage to apologise and the strength to handle whatever his response would be. I asked for grace not to be afraid of true intimacy.
By the time I was done, I felt lighter. The heaviness in my chest was gone. So was the anger I’d held on to for ages. Osahon may not be a nice person, but he was only a character in the play that is my life, one that should’ve exited the stage a long time ago, but whom I’d angrily insisted should stay on in my heart, via the grudge I bore him.
What happened in that bathroom felt like a birth experience; when I stepped out the door at last, I’d birthed a new level of maturity.
“I hope you’ve sorted yourself out,” said the lecturer who’d taken a special interest in me. I wondered what he thought of the sniffling and my red, swollen eyes.
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
This time, when I sat at my desk and read the questions, I understood them. More than that, I remembered the accurate answers. When the bell went for time, my unexpected guardian angel tacked on another fifteen minutes. My colleagues jumped for joy. Perhaps they thought he was being a good man. But I know he did it for me. I made a mental note to go say a personal thank you to him.
As I handed in my paper, my first urge was to hurry off to the chapel as was my custom and pray. However, for the first time since my first year, I decided to break tradition. Instead, I waited for Amarachi to come out of her hall. Around me, students poured out of the halls, screaming and running around. Many of the guys had taken off their white shirts to reveal singlets that had words like ‘Graduate’ and ‘Free at last’ emblazoned on them. Wild chants of ‘Alas we cram no more’ rent the air as they waved their shirts.
Some had come with bottles of wine, water and soft drinks, which they shook vigorously, then baptized anyone close by with the spray. I tried to avoid them, and then, on second thoughts, I let myself be bathed in one of the geysers.
Then someone in the crowd shouted, “Great lions and lioness!”
Automatically, the rest replied with a thunderous, “Great!”
“Great lions and lionesses. What is your profession?”
I joined everyone else and shouted at the reply at the top of my voice, “Ahoo! Ahoo! Ahoo!”
It was exhilarating. At last, I felt like I belonged.
When Amarachi found me, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat, as I watched the antics of the newest graduates in the country. She hugged me hard and we burst into tears at the same time. This was it. The years of hard work had finally come to an end. None of us knew what the future held and at that moment, none of us really cared.
We were free at last.
Written by Eketi Ette