Where do I start from and how do I proceed? Shall I tell of the first fluttering of love, my first kiss, my first sexual encounter or my first heartbreak, the agony and the anguish of it all? Where exactly should I begin from?
Chidi, who was both the one thing I wanted so very much with my whole heart and the one thing I could not have. Chidi, the man who opened my eyes to the infinite joys and pleasures of love, the one who made my body tingle all over and the same person who brought me unbearable pain when it all came to an end.
That afternoon, when I saw Chidi walk out of his rickety car and head towards me, I had felt a cocktail of emotions. There was shock and surprise as well as relief and joy but the one that bubbled to the surface, the one that elbowed the other ones away was joy and I had screamed and jumped into his arms and then burst into tears because I knew that having found him and in the situation I was in, nothing was going to keep us apart ever again.
“What’s wrong with the car?” he asked as our embrace broke and I tried to make myself presentable.
“I ran out of petrol,” I said, then added in a low tone. “And I haven’t got a dime in my purse.”
“Do you have a keg in the boot?” he asked and I said I didn’t know.
“Let’s see then. Open the boot.”
There was no keg in the boot, but as we shut the boot, an area boy had come running towards us.
“I get 25 litres keg for here. Na four hundred naira,” he said pushing a dirty looking and badly crumpled twenty-five litre keg in front of us.
“Two hundred naira,” Chidi said digging into the pocket of his jeans trousers.
“Ah, make am three hundred. You sabi say I go help you watch the car when you and madam go buy fuel,” the area boy said and smiled baring stained dentition.
“Ok, but I go give you the money when I don come back. Make you look the car,” Chidi told him and led me to his 505.
As we got in I asked him if he was sure the keg won’t leak.
“Ah, dat one will be wahala,” Chidi said as he engaged gear. Then he looked at me, opened his mouth to say something, thought better of it and then kept driving. He bought twenty five litres when he saw that the keg didn’t leak, then I’d asked him to buy me snacks before we headed back to where the car was parked. After we had poured the fuel in the car and got it to start, I asked him to come and know my place.
“I think I better not,” he said.
“Why? I won’t bite,” I told him.
“I might. You never can tell. For the past three years I have made a conscious effort to avoid meeting you but fate can be mischievous.”
“Come with me. I want you to know my house. I am begging you,” I said the tears swimming in my eyes again.
“You are a married woman and your husband may not like it,” Chidi said avoiding my eyes and that was when I knew that he had missed me the way I had missed him all those days and weeks and months and the years that had passed.
“My husband is not home. Come with me I beg you,” I said my voice breaking and Chidi had looked at me, swallowed and looked away.
“Lead the way,” he said and walked to his car.
As we drove to my place, me in front with Chidi leading the rear, my mind went to our first meeting in school, when as a JAMBITE I had bumped into him at the health centre where I had gone for my medical tests. That was where we met and after borrowing his biro for the second time, Chidi had asked me to keep it.
“Oh no, please, keep it,” I’d cried handing it back to him.
“It’s ok,” he said digging into the inner pocket of his jeans jacket and coming up with three black biros. “I knew I would meet you, so I brought three extra,” he said his small bright eyes twinkling.
It was his smile and those small but very attentive and observant eyes that first caught me. Then I’d found out he was smart too, making straight As in his architectural courses. We began dating in our first year and it was with Chidi that I discovered what love really is. He was loving, caring, gentle and macho all at once.
What made him the ideal man for me was the fact that he knew when to be soft and when to be hard, when to be gentle and when to be assertive. Even though he was just one year older than me, he often treated me like a baby sister, even helping me to do my assignments from time to time despite the fact that I was in economics.
To call him my soul mate would be to make an understatement. Chidi was my friend, my lover, my brother and my mentor and for the first two years of my marriage especially after I got pregnant and left school and severed all contact with Chidi, I used to sit and pass my time with reminiscences of the good times we’d shared. The pleasant memories of our outings, the long walks Chidi liked to take with me, the Saturday morning runs around the pitch, the plays he took me to watch at the theatre because he said he wanted me to learn to appreciate culture, the poetry books he bought me and loved to recite out loud to me under the starry sky by the light of his pencil-thin torch light, our passionate yet gentle love making. Those memories were my prop in the terrible days of my confusion and emotional distress.
One of the books of poems, my favourite actually was: Twenty love poems and a song of despair by Pablo Neruda. Chidi’s favourite lines were “On all sides I see your waist of fog, / and your silence hunts down my afflicted hours; / my kisses anchor, and my moist desire nests / in you with your arms of transparent stone.” And he used to say them to me after we’d made love.
But after we split, the line that I kept repeating to myself as consolation was one of the saddest in the book.“Love is so short, but forgetting is so long.”
That night, when Chidi told me to obey my parents’ wishes and marry the man they had chosen for me, I had slumped and told him to help me.
“Chidi, let’s run away,” I cried.
“Where? How? To what purpose? Go home to your parents. If God wants us to be together, we will meet again,” he said picking me up and kissing away my tears.
“Chidi, I will die. I will kill myself,” I wailed.
“No, you won’t. Get up and wipe your tears and let fate direct our steps.”
Those were the words ringing in my head as I led Chidi into the duplex I had occupied all alone for nine long months since my husband travelled to Paraguay and failed to return.
I kicked off my shoes then turned and hugged Chidi who stood there, not responding and not pulling away.
My goose was cooked.
By Toni Kan