PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
Watching my son sleep so soundly makes it all come back. The love. The very core of it. I understand that I cannot make peace with my past by trying to relive it but one thing I shouldn’t do is to bottle the truth. For nothing can be done against the truth but for the truth.
Inasmuch as Ayegba tried to hide it from me, I knew mum wasn’t quite comfortable with my increasing closeness with him. Yes, she’d pushed him to accept me as the newest addition to the family, but not in the light we graduated to. Not in the way that made us dear to each other in an inseparable way. I saw the look of gross displeasure in her eyes when I showed her the camera Ayegba gifted me, and although she tried to hide it and just be truly happy for me, she couldn’t well keep up with that. She was beyond displeased, and it made perfect sense.
Ayegba was a very handsome young man. He was handsome from the depth of his eyes to the gentle expression of his voice. He was handsome from his generous attempt at teaching me everything I was curious to learn about to the warm touch of his hand upon my own. I loved the way his voice quickened when it sparkled with a new idea, or was so enjoying one of mine that he lost himself for a moment. Amidst all our bustles and hustles, somehow, before I knew it, I gave him my heart and kept his safe. That was the way it was.
Even when he was far away in the University of Benin, our hearts were very much in synch. Severally he’d called me just when I was thinking about him and vice versa. He told me about the ladies flocking around him. University ladies. I honestly felt jealous but he kept reassuring me.
“Don’t worry your pretty heart, Vee. We are going forever and a day more. I love you, Victory. And will love you for as long as I live.”
I always laughed at his guts. Severally, even back then, I felt like I should just bottle his confidence and sell because I’d make more than a fortune out of it.
In Ayegba, I saw the chance for the kind of love they say doesn’t exist anymore. The type that spans far longer than one lifetime. We were determined to go all the way to forever regardless of the obvious challenges, until he graduated from the university and dad died shortly after.
Right before my very eyes, Ayegba turned into a layered product of pain, hurt and regret after the death of his father. The doctors said that the older man died from complications of diabetes. That was a first for me because I never knew diabetes kills. Ayegba found it hard to move past the loss and I had to push my hurt aside to attend to him.
Yes, I was hurt too.
I had come to accept dad as my father. And losing the fourth close person to me, others being my biological parents and mummy Sarah, before my second decade on earth was a very unbearable and traumatic incidence.
“You are going to be okay, Ayegba. I promise.”
He looked at me with sorrow-filled eyes. “It’s not up to you to promise what you cannot fulfil, Vee.”
My stomach felt empty that afternoon and my mind was full of pain. I drew nearer him and held his hand.
“Okay, this one I can fulfil. I promise to always be here with you.” I said.
Ayegba’s lips lift upwards but the words wouldn’t come out. When we finally clasped each other in a warm, slow, luxurious hug, we felt all the pain from the loss, all oppositions to our love melt away. Our chest rose and fell together, our breaths in unison and the warm blood that we felt in each other’s loving embrace made us feel like we were finally joined as one, that no one would tear us asunder.
As though planned, the channel on the TV began to blare one of our favourite songs at the time. It’s a song by WESTLIFE – Unbreakable.
“…Swept away on a wave of emotion,
Oh, we’re caught in the eye of the storm
And whenever you smile,
I can hardly believe that you’re mine
Believe that you’re mine.”
Ayegba sang the lyrics of the song out loud.
His voice was smooth and clear and loud yet powerful. Soothing, in all ways possible. I know we don’t call a guy’s voice beautiful, but his was. It was beautiful and I wished that he never stopped.
It was quite late in the evening that fateful day but we were free to shout. Mum wasn’t around. She’d travelled to dad’s village after the burial for these ‘rites’ thing that Ayegba considered really demeaning and never wanted to hear anything about.
“This Love is unbreakable…”
I joined in the song too with swells of power rising up in my throat.
Ayegba blinked immediately he heard my voice. He looked like he couldn’t even tell if I was the one singing or the TV. My voice, he told me later, was like music and grace. He moved his left hand to my heart, the right wrapped around my waist and together we continued singing at the top of our lungs,
And each time I look in your eyes,
I know why
This love is untouchable
A feeling my heart just can’t deny
Each time I look in your eyes,
Oh, baby, I know why,
This love is unbreakable.”
We sang on and on until the charge our brains dropped to five percent. There’s a kind of tiredness that needs a good night’s sleep and another that needs much more. The type we both felt that evening needed much more. The fact that the singing session eased a considerable chunk of Ayegba’s pain was my satisfaction. We glanced over at each other fondly and laughed like it was stolen. Soon, we laughed so hard until we both dropped onto the couch tiredly.
Ayegba casted an intense glare on me that made me worry if he could see through my soul. I clenched my fists tightly, until my nails dug into the palm of my hand but I didn’t even notice the pain. The only thing I was aware of was the sound of my heart throbbing against the cage of my chest. My body is reacting like there’s a gorilla about to beat the hell out of me. Instead of sitting face-to-face with Ayegba, I let my face drop to the floor as though some invisible hands were handing out willpower from around there.
“Why are you letting your head down like you’re praying?” Ayegba asked. His voice was a whisper.
I chuckled without looking up at him. “Cause I might need to.”
He stretched his hand out and willed me to look straight at him. I noticed cold sweat had glistened on his furrowed brow. With my hands clasped tightly in front of my stomach, I continued to fiddle with my knuckles, weaving my fingers in and out of each other.
“What will you pray for?” He sounded curious.
I managed to face him this time.
“Willpower.” I said.
Ayegba’s face was rigid with tension. He appeared like he had aged a decade longer in the last couple of minutes.
“Why don’t we just blame it on the song?” He said gently, pushed the throw pillow separating us away and drew closer.
All the reasons not to remain seated came flooding in, as if my body chemistry just sent them a blanket invitation. That instance, I felt the soft panic that can grow or fade depending on what I do next. It may have faded if I had mustered enough willpower to pull back, run into my room and bolt my door, but I just sat there, like a log of wet wood unable to will my feet to move an inch.
I never thought I’d see this day. I’ve had many dreams of the day Attah would meet Ayegba, but never like this. I resigned myself to thinking Attah would look up Ayegba on the internet when he turned eighteen. They could fight or bond or do whatever it is fathers and sons do when they first meet each other. The only thing I didn’t want was for Attah to hate Ayegba for not being around. I could have tried harder to find him and tell him, but I didn’t. I was selfish… or maybe not. I was merely looking out for him. For his family. I was afraid and it took me a long time to get over that fear – that’s if I have truly done that.
I wish there’s a way to wrap Attah and Ayegba up in a tight can so they can never be away from each other. I know that’s not fair to Ayegba – he has a life away from here that’s vastly different. He’s grown now and should be different, yet he is so much the same guy that I fell in love with all those years ago.
The guy I never stopped loving.
I see so much of Ayegba’s features in Attah; the bridge of his nose as it contours gracefully down to his full lips, the thickness of his dark hair and the slight forward protrusion of his forehead exactly like Ayegba’s. There’s no denying they’re son and father.
Mona and Ayegba had gone out earlier and still not back. I am sore worried about the outing. About what Mona wanted to say and couldn’t do it in this house.
Ayegba didn’t join us for dinner. I know he’s hoping I would spill it all to Mona because we were finally alone. God knows, I tried my best to. Severally, I willed myself to speak up but the words wouldn’t come forth.
I will definitely tell him as soon as they return, I promise.
A loud blare from the honk of Mona’s car as it drives into the compound announces their arrival. I get up like a demon hit me, pull down the edges of my knee-length A-line gown and head downstairs towards the front door. Mona draws me in for a hug and in the process, my gaze meets Ayegba’s who is standing right behind us. The expression on his face gives nothing away and that makes me worry more.
“Good night, buddy!”
He shakes hands with Mona and disappear into his room without saying a single word to me. I swallow painfully and follow as Mona leads the way up the stairs.
Mona throws his car keys onto the table like he’s angry with it. Perhaps, he is really angry. Ayegba may have told him something. Maybe he is very angry with me and trying to control himself at all cost.
I draw in oxygen through my lungs as I sit on the edge of the bed Attah is laying, avoiding his legs. The air is tensed everywhere. I never stay long in Mona’s room in the daytime, let alone at night but I am determined to spill all the truth in me tonight.
“Eh… I…” I begin, stammering. “Look babe, I…I have something I need to tell you.”
Mona’s eyes rest on me. He then forces a knowing smile on his face that unsettles me even more.
“Same here, baby.” He says. “I have something I need to tell you too. Actually, two things.”
The way he stares at me is as uncomfortable as feeling pressed in a danfo and strangely so, it is having an effect on my breathing. My eyes immediately find the table on which he threw the keys earlier and holds it longingly. Still, Mona doesn’t take his eyes off and I feel urine leaking out of my bladder.
“So you…” we echo at the same time as though planned.
We let out nervous smiles and Mona urges me on.
“You go first, baby.”
“Oh no!” I shape my lips into an awkward toothy smile but my cheeks are not compromising. My smile is lifeless as I try to persuade Mona. “You go first, babe. What is it?” I hesitate before talking again. “Rather, what are they?”
Mona walks over to take a seat right beside me and wraps his right hand across my shoulders.
“Baby, they want me to head the state headquarters in Sokoto. The promotion was announced at the meeting we had earlier this morning. I tried to call severally but your phone was switched off.”
I look at him like maggots are crawling out of his head. A promotion? Is this a good news or a bad one?
“Wow, congratulations on the promotion.” I manage to say. “But babe, Sokoto?”
Mona draws closer. “I know, baby. I totally understand your hesitation.” His voice is quieter now, more serious. “I remember we’ve had this conversation before.” He takes my hand and holds it tightly. “I am talking to them already, baby. I will do everything possible to ensure we don’t have to relocate. At least not that far up North.”
I heave a deep sigh of relief at the reassurance in his tone. I am honestly unwilling to go anywhere just yet, not anytime in the near future.
“The second thing is…” Mona begins and hot alarm goes off in my brain.
Fear sits on me like a pillow over my mouth and nose as I watch his lips move. My palms grow sweaty and adrenaline courses through my system. I want to run out of the room.
“What’s the matter, baby?” Mona’s tone of concern as he looks at me tears through the still air.
I readjust myself. “No. Nothing. What is the second thing?”
“Ehm…” Mona clears his throat. “You know,” my wide eyeballs begged him to just spill it already. “We had to return abruptly this evening because plans changed and I needed to return Attah home safely before proceeding on our next mission. Remember, no guns, right?”
I am honestly confused so I nod from side to side.
“My battalion is going to southern Kaduna first thing tomorrow morning.”
At this point, reality dawns on me.
“Wait, you’re telling me that you will be on the plane heading out again tomorrow?” I ask, finding it hard to believe.
Mona smacks his lips hard. “I am sorry, babe. I don’t know how everything is just coming up at the same time but I promise I will be back in time for thanksgiving service.”
My eyeballs grow wider. “Thanksgiving service is on the 28th, Mona.” I say out loud and when he nods in the affirmative, I let my jaw drop to the floor. “You would be gone for that long, wouldn’t you? Two whole weeks?” I angle my eyebrows in a cynical fashion.
“Yes, my love. You do understand, right? It’s the wor…”
“Alright babe. It’s okay.” I cut in. I’m not ready for all the loyalty-patriotic sermon right now.
“Are you sure, baby?” Mona’s question sounds genuine and when I nod with a reassuring smile, he giggles. The giggle builds up inside him like so much water behind a dam, making his shoulders shake and belly bubble.
“Thanks for your continuous understanding, baby. I love you.” He says into my ears.
I simply smile and try to breathe in-between his words. He says something about Ayegba’s plan to leave soon. I grow cold immediately and unable to move my tongue. It’s stuck inside my mouth, useless. My heart hardens in my chest like a big stone. The information makes it hard for me to breathe. It is as if someone is choking me. My heart begins to race and all I want to do is to run downstairs to Ayegba’s room and tell him my mind. All of it.
But I can’t.
“So what do you want to tell me?” Mona asks.
“Uh?” My eyes move to his shoulders, looking confused at first then readjusts. “Oh yea. I… I … ehm” I stammer but the look in Mona’s eyes tells me to take my time.
I shake my head rapidly disallowing my thoughts to get the better of me.
I take in deep calming breaths and avoid his eyes. “I… I just wanted us to talk about ehm… our plan to take Attah to the amusement park as usual… you know, eh, because, ehmm… you know he’s resuming on Sunday. That’s just three days’ time.” I lie.
Mona pauses, his eyes shining brightly as if they could work themselves into digging everything in my thoughts out. I wonder if he could guess I am lying as I consciously still my body movements, faking a smile.
“As it stands now, you may have to take him out alone, baby. I will ensure you have enough to go shopping too afterwards.” His face lights up as an idea drops. “Or, perhaps I should speak to Ayegba to accompany you both.”
My voice immediately moves and grinds against each other. “That would not be necessary, babe. Attah and I would be just fine.”
Mona shrugs with satisfaction. “I love you, Ile. Please hang in there for me one more time, okay?”
I open my lips but no sound can make it past because of the tightening in my chest. There’s panic in my eyes but I don’t let Mona see it. I simply nod and stand to my feet.
“And please keep praying for me. It’s a bit dangerous out there.” He winks.
There is a loud voice in my gut screaming, ‘a bit? Are you kidding? You’re deliberately walking into a lion’s den for crying out loud’. I fight to find the courage to spill it out but I am unsure so I just say,
“I will always pray for you, babe. Try and get some sleep now. It’s almost midnight and you have a long day tomorrow.”
“Thanks. Good night, baby.” Mona places a peck on my forehead.
“Good night.” I respond softly before exiting the room.
A loud snap sound from the kitchen rings an alarm in my head as I head downstairs. I immediately dash in there to find Ayegba struggling with the toaster. From behind him, I smile as I take in his full length, height and weight with my eyes. He’s still got those dashing looks, I affirm.
“What are you doing?”
My voice startles him as he didn’t notice me walking in.
He’s not said anything personal to me since Mona travelled yesterday morning, and even the time before then. Ever since he stormed out of my house two days ago, our conversations have been strained. Thankfully, Attah’s presence in the house made everything less awkward.
“Trying to make bread toasts as you can see.” He turns to face me. An awkward movement runs past the corner of his eyes as he folds his arms over his polo.
I turn my face to the refrigerator, staring at it like it held more answers. My thoughts are a strange ocean.
“To be fair I made way crunchier bread toasts than you back then. Even more so now…” Ayegba says, smiling.
I bit my lips. It’s a good thing he’s smiling at me again. I’ve missed it.
“Although I have tried but I’m still unable to get that your sandwich recipe.” He groans.
“Well, isn’t that why it is ‘my’ sandwich recipe?” My eyelashes bat their lids faintly when I wink. “Just be humble and ask me to teach you.”
Ayegba goes up in a thundering laughter. “You wish.”
I glance upwards, my mouth purses but slightly open and lose. My eyes are fixed on the bread popping out of the toaster as if I am telling Ayegba to focus.
He blinks and smiles.
“Someone got me pissed two days ago…”
I sigh, unsure of where he is going.
He reminds me of one of our traditions back then. When the offended party shares toast breads with the offender, the offense dies a natural death at that instance.
“So.” He stretches out a plate to me and I feel flattered by that gesture.
“Thanks, Ayegba.” I collect the plate and set it on the table. “I am so sorry about that afternoon. Gosh, I was so stupid.”
“Yes, you were.” Ayegba affirms playfully and we begin to laugh.
“Where did you keep my little boy?” He asks.
“He went out with Anibe to the amusement park. They should even be back soon.” I say quite too carelessly.
It felt better for Anibe to take Attah to the amusement park than me in company of Ayegba. There’s no point igniting a flame that would consume everyone in the end.
Ayegba’s eyes narrow, rigid. “Did you mean what you said the other time?”
I turn a questioning look at him as I bite into the toasted bread. Not bad.
“About mum. She truly didn’t know?” He adds.
With the bread still in my mouth, I nod like a baby lizard.
“Why didn’t she just say she didn’t know about it then?” Ayegba’s jaw drops down. “Oh… I remember.”
He recounts how that even on this his last visit to her, she’d wanted to talk to him about her and he shushed her yet again. He stopped the older woman from mentioning it that morning and that was in fact what incited his abrupt decision to travel back.
“My original intention was to stay a whole week.” He says.
He raises his left eyebrow.
“Yeah, Mona says his friend was coming in a week’s time only for you to place an urgent call that you were already on your way the next morning.”
Ayegba smiles broadly. “I am sorry about the inconveniences, Ma’am.” He jeers.
“Apology accepted, my boy.” I jeer also. “Don’t tell me you’ve been mad at mum all these years over my sudden disappearance?” I ask a question that seems to have an obvious answer.
Ayegba squares his shoulders and stares at me. “What exactly do you want me to tell you, Vee?” His voice is a whisper now.
I blink. “The truth. The truth is always the best.”
“Well, what if the truth is not an option?” He furrows his forehead.
I look on blankly as a stillness overwhelms the entire kitchen, the only audible sound being the loud beating of the organ tucked between our lungs.
An abrupt opening of the door outside snaps us out of the sober mood we were drifting into. Soon enough the door to the kitchen opens also and Attah runs into Ayegba’s arms at top speed.
The latter picks him up and they clutch their palms together in a somewhat dramatic fashion.
“My man!” they both scream out loud at the same time.
What’s that? A salutation?
“Hi, mum!” Attah finally acknowledges my presence as he climbs down from Ayegba’s chest. He walks over and picks my half-eating toast from the plate in my hand and dashes out of the kitchen.
“Hi guys.” Anibe’s loud voice rents the air. “Oh, dear Lord, what’s that aroma?” she sniffs in the cool air amidst smiles. “Don’t tell me our hot best man is also a world class chef?”
“Well, I aim to your true definition of a perfect gentleman.” Ayegba answers with a flirtatious tone that sinks my heart.
“This is more than mere trying, dude.” Anibe says as she bites on the toast she helped herself to.
“Well, you may have to tell your boyfriend already.” Ayegba says, letting a coy smile dance around his lips.
Anibe casts a look of confusion on him. Well, Anibe and I but he’s concentrating on just Anibe. Sadly.
“Tell him that you’re breaking up with him because you found another man.”
The statement sounds wrong to me on every count but it seems to amuse the both of them and they laugh out so loud and carefree. I swallow the jealousy in my throat and try not to let it get to my eyes.
A beep on Anibe’s phone takes her attention to her purse. Ayegba glances over at me and I force a smile, revealing my teeth.
“Oh! I got to go.” Anibe announces.
“Why? Stay for dinner, babe.” I say.
Anibe squeezes her eyes. “The doctor picked us from the amusement park and he’s waiting for me outside. I almost forgot that, can you imagine?” Her voice is quieter, serious.
“Beautiful then, you both can join the family for dinner.” I try to insist.
Anibe looks at me with a look of disappointment. Like, she expects me of all persons to know what she’s trying to say.
I shrug in defeat. “Okay o. When are we meeting doctor though?”
She struggles to pick another piece of toast as her long artificial nails create a hindrance. Ayegba gently helps her pick.
“With the way our best man is going eh? You may not have to meet the doctor o, sis.” Anibe says through clenched teeth.
I watch Ayegba chuckle at that. Anibe too. What are these two doing? I try not to overthink it. Anibe hugs Ayegba lightly before coming to hug me.
“Where did you and big bro find such a perfect gentleman?” She whispers in my ears, giggling. “Good night, Fam.” She calls out and exits the kitchen door.
“Why are you looking like that?” Ayegba’s voice brings me back.
“Like how?” I try to rearrange my face immediately. He gives me a knowing look and I avoid his glare. “I am not looking anyhow. And if you are maybe thinking I am jealous, then we need to work on your over bloated ego.”
Ayegba smiles kindly. “Sometimes, I forget how good of a liar you are…” he says, drawing closer to me.
He sees the discomfort in my eyes and pauses.
“Obviously when God handed out humility, you didn’t get your fair share. Ayegba.” I gasps my few words and he begins to laugh.
“You are just jealous, admit it.”
I roll my eyeballs. “You were flirting with her right before me, bro.”
Ayegba burst out into a full-fledged laughter now. “Point of correction, I am not your bro. secondly, I wasn’t flirting. I was just being me.”
“Uncle Ayegba?” Attah’s voice draws our attention. He lifts up two game pads and we immediately know what he’s implying.
“I am joining you right away, boy.” Ayegba says, dusting his hand with a napkin.
“Ehmmm, Attah boy,” I start. “Can you please go ahead, uncle Ayegba will join you in a moment.”
Attah doesn’t protest as he runs to the sitting room, his footsteps heavy and solid.
I return my gaze to Ayegba and notice curiosity building in his face.
“I am supposed to leave tomorrow, but Attah says I must join you while taking him to school on Sunday and I really want to do it. If you are okay with it, of course.” He says the words one at a time as though the next is stuck in his throat.
I rest my entire weight against the table behind me and look straight at Ayegba. He reaches for my hand and pulls it to his forehead.
“I didn’t know your whereabouts, Vee. You left not the slightest clue. I tried looking for you all to no avail. I never imagined you could be pregnant. It was just once… we sinned against God, according to you and we repented afterwards, remember? It was just once,”
I shot him a cold glare. “Oh! How many attempts do you think conceived you in mum’s womb?”
His countenance fell. “I am sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”
“Attah doesn’t know.” I say, rubbing my sweaty palms on my jean. “He knows that Mona is not his dad, but sometimes it’s just easier for him to tell people that he is.” I hesitate a moment before continuing. “I don’t want him hurt, Ayegba and I am afraid that if I let him know the truth about you, you’ll disappear tomorrow.”
“I didn’t disappear the first time, Vee. Remember. I won’t disappear now. Never. I know you may find it hard to believe me but I’ll do anything to prove to you. I want to be his dad. He’s supposed to be ours, Vee, and somehow that’s messed up now but it’s okay. Please, allow me take my rightful place in my son’s life.”
My eyes grow teary when he says things like this. No wonder, I’d fallen so deeply in love with him back then. He had his way with words.
I begin to walk out of the kitchen and could feel his eyes looking intensely at me in confusion. At the door, I stop abruptly and turn. I urge him to come on. He swallows and follows after me.
In the sitting room, Attah looks up at us from his game.
“Are you ready for me now, Uncle Ayegba?” He asks.
Ayegba tries to respond but I cut in.
“AT boy, could you please turn that off and come sit here for a few minutes, I need us to talk.”
We sit down, Attah between us. He looks at Ayegba who is still confused, then me, smiling.
“Are you sure about this Vee?” Ayegba whispers over Attah’s head.
“Vee? Who is Vee?” Attah asks, facing Ayegba squarely.
“We’ve got something to tell you.” I say out loud.
“Okay.” Attah says, sitting up. Ayegba reaches down and set his right hand on Attah’s knee, calming his jitters.
I shift in the seat, leaning closer to Attah. Ayegba does the same thing, although I’m not sure why. I clear my throat and smile at Attah. “Remember the letters I made you write to…”
“Your lost soldier. That’s what you call him mum.” Attah completes my statement and I wish he could just quietly listen. I realize I am not going to be able to keep him calm. I am not even calm. I just have years of practice in stoicism.
“Well, I met my lost soldier in the most unusual way years ago. We drew closer and after a long time, we let our emotions get the better of us.” I don’t even know if he needs to know, let alone understand all these details but I will continue anyway. “Shortly after, he had to go to the army. I later found that I was pregnant with you and I thought the best thing was to run away.”
Attah’s eyes are drawn in. “Run away? Why? He didn’t want me?”
“No. No.” I break in. “He didn’t even know about you. I never told him and didn’t leave any clue as to where he could find me.”
I stop and clear my throat. This is harder than I expected, remembering how good things were until everything got sour.
“I am sorry I didn’t tell you sooner, Sweetie.” My eyes well up with tears and it begins to pour like a heavy downpour.
Attah draws nearer me, put his hand on my shoulder and rubs it. “It’s okay, mummy. You can tell me now.”
I smile amidst my tears. My boy is an adult in a boy’s body.
“Uncle Ayegba is my lost solder, baby. He is your daddy.” I gasps my few words.
TO BE CONTINUED.
HAPPY NEW MONTH, FAM.
- WHAT DO YOU SEE HAPPENING SOON?
- DO YOU THINK ILEANWA DID THE RIGHT THING?
- WHAT KIND OF CAREFREE LADY IS ANIBE ANYWAY?
- IS THERE SOMETHING MONA COULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY IN ALL THESE?