Some things shouldn’t matter and every couple that intends to spend the rest of their lives together should open up to each other, come to terms with their past and forge a happily ever after together. Wrong. At least in this society of ours where such things are delicate. I should know, I have lost three otherwise good men to what my friend for life, Evelyn describes as my stupidity. And I’m likely to lose one more, Mike.
This story begins at the NYSC camp in Lagos roughly 12 years ago when I was in my early 20s, fresh out of university and also very impressionable if I’m to be honest.
Since I grew up in Jos and attended the University of Maiduguri, the NYSC in its wisdom posted me to the southwest to experience that part of the country. Everyone said I was lucky to have been posted to the centre of excellence but I didn’t share the same sentiment when I got to camp in Iyana Ipaja early in 2006.
The crowd was the first to cause me panic. I had never in my life seen that many people in one place. It looked to me as if all the graduates in Nigeria were sent to Lagos that year. I was disoriented by that and the fact that it was taking much too long to register and settle down to camp activities.
I eventually completed my registration and was heading out of the storehouse where I had gone to pick up my kits when I crashed into him. It was a headlong collision if ever there was one.
“Look where you are going or go where you are looking,” he said while I reached down to retrieve my stuff knocked out of my hands from the collision, my tiredness and frustration.
“Wow, you are so beautiful,” were the next words that came out of his mouth. “I’m so sorry I ran into you,” he added and stooped to help me gather my things, which I was still to pick up. I smelt mint when his head got level with mine and our eyes met igniting a spark that comes to mind even now. Plus, he was the most handsome person I had ever set my eyes on at that point in my life. But all I wanted to do was go find the space I had been allocated and rest.
But I will not lie, I wanted to see him again. I wanted to kiss his small minty lips. Hug him tight to myself. It was plain animal attraction I must confess but the truth is that I wanted more than anything in the world to hand him my virginity, which I had been saving for the perfect guy. I did not know anything about this guy but something told me that our paths would cross again.
I was right. Our paths crossed three days later during the ceremony that opens every NYSC orientation camp across Nigeria. We were then never to be separated until the thing whose job it was to do that completed its task. He and I did not participate in any of the activities that day though, we were onlookers at our own party.
“Hello beautiful,” he said. He saw me first. “I didn’t introduce myself properly the first time. My bad. My name is Richard,” he added while taking my hand even before I extended it. He was with Steve, one of his many friends, and he introduced us.
All I wanted to do was ask him where he had been the last three days, instead I said, “I’m Zamaye”.
“What a fine name for a fine woman,” he said and I liked the sound of that. It was perhaps the first time someone was calling me a woman. And how much I wanted to be a woman, it was what I had been waiting for exactly so I let him do with me what he wanted. But even he was hesitant especially when I told him the truth of the situation, that I was a virgin who chose to be that way not because of any pressure and had all along been waiting for someone like him to claim my maidenhead.
He brought me flowers and took me on dates. He gave a lie to the NYSC yarn about serving far from where you grow up as even though he had grown up and schooled in Lagos and was loosely from the state, he was posted there. Maybe this was because he did his university abroad. In any case, he took me on dates to many places around the city. I can say that we were happy and be correct. Except that for a long time, he only kissed me. Nothing more.
I started to wonder if something was wrong with everything that I knew, question the very notions that had fed my entire existence. Was virginity no longer the one thing all men desired in a young woman? Did it have anything to do with my own experience? Had things taken a drastic turn or there was something the matter with Richard? What I didn’t know is that he was bidding his time, savouring a jewel he had found to be of inestimable value.
I was to wait at least seven months before he claimed me for himself and I can tell you that the experience was overrated, all pain and fuss. It was not what I had been expecting.
“It’s all right. No one tells you how clumsy the first time can be sometimes. As a matter of fact, most of the time. Particularly if the man has little or no experience,” said Evelyn when I brought the matter up with her.
“At least tell me you were left with butterflies in your stomach and anticipation twined you like a rope before and after the act,” she said.
“I cannot say for a fact that this is what happened but it is good to know that we are not alone,” I said.
In time we came to perfect the art of our lovemaking but it was not enough to keep us together. That I had become pregnant made it worse. Here was I savouring the most impressive of life’s miracles and at the same time facing rejection. Richard wanted nothing to do with the baby that was growing inside me and my decision to keep it rather than take the easy way out by having an abortion broke the strings that still held our fragile relationship together.
“I’m not ready,” he told me repeatedly.
“I will keep the baby,” I said each time. I was resolute. My mind was made up and that was the beginning of my trouble even if my parents backed me in my decision. Apparently, no man wants a reminder that someone else has been there before and most men I have met prefer someone who has had multiple abortions to someone who has a baby. All the young women I know who didn’t keep their babies are happily married even if they are still searching for the fruit of the womb.
And most painful is the fact that I lost Nick, Praise and Ike because I told them the truth. But most especially Ike. It was after he called off our engagement four and half years ago that Evelyn and I devised the plan to start referring to my daughter as my younger sister. So, I have been telling Mike, the current man in my life that my daughter, who stays with me, is my sister. But now that he has proposed to me and I’m ready to say yes, I don’t think I can continue to do it. I don’t want to continue building our relationship on a lie. But the question is whether I should? Would it be such a significant lie that would end our relationship should he find out along the line? Would it even matter if he loves me like he says he does? But I hesitate because I love him so much. What should I do?