True Life Story
“I’m going to die”, she said without batting an eyelid. Me, being in lover-boy state, I was quick to respond: “We all will, fine gehl. In fact, that’s why you should say yes, so we can grow old and die together.”
Her smile was hesitant but bright. “No, silly. I mean I’m going to die soon.” I sat up, surprised to my core as the library we were seated in faded to the background. She sat there, staring my way with her almost-too-thin lips stretched in that half-smile. The thinness of her cheeks struck me for the first time – that and the frailness that clung to her blue gown like a haunting memory that hangs on the edge of your consciousness – you cannot exactly remember, neither can you forget.
Daintily, she rearranged the edge of the gown over her legs as well as she could with her free hand – the other was stuck in my vice-like grip – and looked me in the eye.
“Well?” she prodded for a response. I still didn’t know what to make of her grim remark. “Can you explain what you mean, please?”
A sigh slipped from between her lips, and eyes that had been through similar situations too many times – I didn’t realize this at the time – closed in weariness. Words spilled from her lips – words that were just as tired; as world-weary as her demeanor suggested.
I sat and listened.
I heard what she said – but I really didn’t listen.
Love; they say, isn’t a selfish endeavor. I mean, the idea of love is to put someone else ahead of yourself – your wants, needs, desires and whatnots; abi? She had told me in plain words as she sat and glowed in her blue evening gown; told me clearly she wasn’t in a position to be special in that way to anyone. Omo, I no hear word o.
So I persisted with my tales of love shutdown; love finally finding its illuminated and determined way into a heart once cold and bleak. She would walk beside me, looking away but smiling as I serenaded her with another poem I had rapidly scribbled on my way to her. I would proclaim and protest my feelings; she would shake her long locks and smile.
But after a while, I saw I was wearing her down and my limbs sang with new life and energy, the poems were coming like someone had unlocked some part of my memory – I couldn’t stop even if I wanted.
And I didn’t want to.
Then came that fateful night – I was home and my phone rang.
It was her.
She wanted me to come hang out with her at home – in her house! The time was something past seven and I had never had the privilege to get past her door before. All sorts of alarm bells went off in my head but I was in love – or at least that was what I told myself so I dressed fresh, paying particular attention to the boxers I chose, and then headed to her house.
She sat in an easy chair in the centre of the colorful room; ethereal light rays streaming through the curtains, creating a halo around her and unintentionally highlighting stuff around the room – a frame here, a vase there, a funny shaped table – but I was caught up with the woman at the center.
Her smile was brighter than I had ever seen, and the quiet dignity I had come to associate with her was never clearer than in that moment. She waved me into a seat, and I sat looking her full in the face, trying not to allow the curves the colorful gown was hugging distract me. “You will stay here tonight – there’s something I need you to see.”
For the first time since my entrance she met my eyes. “If after that you still write me beautiful poetry – poetry that has nothing but sincerity in the lines – I will be yours to do with as you will.”
A slow pounding shouldered its way through my rational thought patterns. I liked the “be yours to do with as you will” but I couldn’t get past the first thing she said; “You will stay here tonight – there’s something I need you to see.”
You would understand if I said scenes from the music video for Michael Jackson’s Thriller – particularly the last few seconds -flashed through my mind. I sat on the edge of the bamboo seat and thought about leaving. But there was something about the curve of her lips, the lift of her breasts underneath the gown…
I think she knew too; in that way women have of knowing things – what she was doing to me. Her smile didn’t diminish – in fact it took on a shimmering sinister slant as she reached behind the chair she was in and pulled something out – a bottle.
I wasn’t expecting that.
“Do you…?” I trailed off. I was going to end the sentence with “drink” when my answer came in the form of her throwing her head back and taking a healthy swallow of whatever was in the bottle. She coughed gaspingly – but continued to swallow even as some of drink spilled past her lips, down the firm jaw…down the sleek neck and down her chest – gluing the already-tight gown to a pair of thrusting projections.
I wanted to say something – but something else; lust probably, had my throat glued shut.
After a while, she set the bottle down and coughed a little bit before smiling at me.
“Hope I didn’t shock you,” she asked.
“No, you didn’t”, I replied. “I mean it’s everyday a fine girl invites me to her house to watch her drink.” But my smile took the bite out of my remark because she smiled back.
“Good”, she said and continued talking as though nothing happened. She moved across the room, touching pictures with the tips of her fingers, talking about her love for capturing moments in a frame. I could tell that photography was really dear to her, and therefore made a mental note to buy her something relating to it soon – as soon as she said yes.
“Yes”, she said, intruding on my thoughts. “I will make you dinner. What do you want?”
The noise of generators pushed through the edges of the closed windows and shut doors and cast surround sound over our after-food conversation. We were just talking when it happened.
I remember the exact moment.
I was sucking fish out of the cracks of my teeth and had just laughed loudly over something she’d said when she suddenly stiffened – jerking half-out of her seat and throwing her head backwards as though she wanted to break it off. Her veins stood out; starkly in the duskiness that was her skin.
I staggered backwards.
“Ba…”, I started to speak, but her keening scream cut through my mind and stopped whatever I was going to say. Fear and some other emotion I am yet to identify kept me rooted to my chair as I started to remember all sorts of prayers; prayers I had never said. In the midst of my frenetic praying was a staccato of reprimands punctuating my prayers effectively. I would start with Father Lord God – and that would just flow into you no dey hear word!
Not God; of course.
Meanwhile the object of my palpitating heart was still screaming, twisting and contorting – then abruptly she dropped into a heap.
I started forward – stopped, then darted to her side before kneeling. She was twisting and squirming on the floor, mumbling things in what I thought was a strange language. By now, I had been able to apply some coherence to my thoughts and could pray better.
These are the words I came up with:
Dear Father Lord, I know I f**k up regularly but if you just guide me through this night I swear I won’t misbehave again. I swear.
That was when I realized she was speaking English.
I leaned close to her till I could feel her breath; heated, on my cheek. What did you say?
She struggled and turned over, looking at me with eyes that seemed alight with the fires of hell. It…hurts…please….
Some generator fumes slid down my nasal passage as I inhaled slowly before grabbing her left shoulder – applying pressure gently but firmly – letting go of it as though it had sent an electric charge into my hands.
The bones were moving, they were in motion – wriggling like so many earthworms and snakes or something equally slimy as she continued moaning and thrashing, back and forth like a beached live Tilapia fish – or any fish for that matter.
Our screams drowned the generator noises for a moment – and then hers was cut off suddenly.
I swear, I thought she was dead.
That’s what I wanted you to see – that’s why I asked you over.
I wiped sweat away from her brow, feeling her trembling softly right down to the fingers of her left hand as it lay in mine. Something moved within me too; something palpable, something that I could almost touch but hesitated to identify –
Something that seemed like fear.
Other guys have left me – guys I didn’t tell about it because I was afraid to lose them. It’s why I’ve been alone; I cannot handle rejection after rejection. And then a guy like you comes along…
She smiled, and that soft and squishy something inside all of us hardened in me. I made sure she was comfortable in the sofa she was lying in, covering her with a sheet I took from her inner chamber and sat beside her.
I was there till the morning.
When she opened her eyes and saw me watching her, she looked away – but not before I saw the shimmer of tears. And then she whispered;
I’m glad you’re here.
Thank God for the internet.
Resolve is something that is like a neighbor to me – it’s never far away. Right there and then; holding her hand and looking in her eyes; watching hope fizzle and pop for the umpteenth time, I was determined that my story with her would be different. Holding that strong, trembling hand – I made up my mind to never let it go.
But of course, I didn’t tell her that.
I believe in show and prove, you see.
So prove I did. I spent three days in front of my laptop, only standing up when the lights started to flicker; meaning the generator needed refueling. I didn’t even stand up to eat; I just put a pack of Golden Morn and Dano Milk right beside me.
And I browsed. There was a sea of information on her condition but I swam through it all. I went from getting a basic understanding of what it was in the first place, to an understanding of what happened the night I was with her. I understood it is what was referred to as a ‘crisis’ – I understood the triggers and how to manage such a situation. Within three days, I became an expert.
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Kelechi, a doctor friend asked me. “Survival rates for conditions like hers are very slim o, like 0 – 0.9 percent”.
I frowned at him from across the desk. “But there are survivors, right?”
“And then, what about the kids? Even though you’re AA…”
“Will you write me a prescription for morphine injections or do I see someone else?”
His struggle was visible on his face; the tussle between doing what was right and being loyal to a friend.
He scribbled on a small yellow piece of paper; the only doctor I have ever seen with readable handwriting – and handed it to me. And then he squeezed my shoulder with his free hand. “God will do what is best.”
I put together a kit – some small first-aid materials for her. Fortunately, I was – or I am self-employed so I could be with her a lot; but even if I had a 9 – 5, I would have considered quitting.
She was worth it.
And it was something of a miracle to watch her unfold; this shy blossom of mine. Once she realized I was for real she didn’t hold back. I would stand at her door and knock – and many a time I heard stuff falling as she rushed to the door. Then I would not hear anything – I assumed she was calming herself down and I would laugh – and then she would open the door and just stand there looking at me.
Or sometimes she would open the door and say “Hello beautiful man” in that singsong manner of hers and then we would just sit and talk – she would show me her latest pictures and I would show her my latest stories.
Or I would just read to her.
She would lie back on the sofa, legs on display by her short gown, close her eyes and listen as I read some piece to her. At moments in the story she would ask me to stop – and mouth a word or phrase I just read. And she would look at me and say “beautiful”, enunciating the word with her pinkish lips.
And then she would ask me to continue.
Even I started to bloom. There was something about her – something that made me live like I hadn’t – in a long while. Maybe at first; I was just there because I wanted to prove something to her and myself – something as basic as not being like the other guys, but that evolved and I genuinely fell for her. Hard!
We were going to beat it. The crises still occurred – but we worked together, understanding the signs and how to manage them. I still conferred with Kelechi regularly, Kelechi the skeptic who had met her only once and was blown away.
All of this in eleven months. I started to think marriage.
Then came the day I was going to propose – came the day just like any other day; harsh sunshine, sweaty Lagosians hustling back and forth, NEPA doing what they do best.
Me on a cloud as I headed for a rendezvous with my sweetheart.
She had a photo shoot that morning for an advertising agency; and she would need all her concentration.
In other words, I could not be there.
But she would call me as soon as she was done – which was fine with me.
And so she called, and so out I headed, smiling sheepishly and carrying a box of stuff; chocolates and Skittles and some other things – other things to make a girl smile. I carried them and went to the spot and settled down to wait. She wasn’t too far away so she shouldn’t be long.
I’m still waiting; feeling like life played a cruel joke on me.
Her assistant called to tell me in a voice all choked up with pain and confusion, that my everything had died in an accident. A container had fallen on her KIA Picanto and crushed it and her.
No, sickle cell didn’t kill my beloved. An iron box did. We hadn’t even been able to find enough of her to bury.
It’s been six years – and I still wake sometimes calling her name. I still stop – in the middle of writing another story like I did several times with this one – and realize my face is covered in tears. I still try not to be mad at God because in the middle of my pain and hurt, I acknowledge that God had nothing to do with a careless driver working for a system comfortable with zero accountability.
But it still makes no sense.
In memory of Ejiro Okpomo.