PLEASE MARRY ME – GRACE OCHIGBO
It had taken me the remaining part of the semester to agree that families were not only made by blood but by love also. More so, Mum pretty much laid her points bare.
“I’ve decided to adopt Victory as my own daughter and, if you see me mother enough, then you’re going to not just accept my decision but also begin to treat her as your sister.” She said.
I felt mad to be honest. I hated the entire bitter bolus of reality my folks were forcing down my throat. There’s a type of anger that fuels you without making you a target. That’s the best kind of anger and that was what I had.
By the time I returned home for the sessional holidays, I had made peace with my mind. It didn’t take long to realize that having another human in the house aside my folks wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Mum forced me to go grocery-shopping with the driver days she had a conference or church meeting. That role automatically became Victory’s. She cleaned the entire house all by herself except my room and made most of the meals.
The only thing I was sure to do early enough was spell her boundaries out to her.
No coming near my room unless it’s absolutely necessary.
No talking to me familiarly either in the house or in public.
As long as she kept to her side of the rules, we were good.
One evening after dinner, I decided to get fresh air outside so I strolled to the back of the house. The area was cemented and dad made someone construct two wooden recliners under the open sky. He and mum usually stayed out there late into the night, talking and laughing away. My parents had the most endearing love life yet.
As I approached the seats however, my eyes caught a figure under the dim moonlight. Victory was sitting on one of the recliners, her face looking straight up in the sky. Her somewhat tiny fingers seemed like they were counting all the stars. I thought going back in was the best bet for me until the headphone on my hand dropped to the floor suddenly and it startled her.
“Good evening, sir.” She jumped onto her feet with fear filled eyes.
“I am sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you…” I tried to apologize but she picked up her slippers and started walking away. “Wooo… wait,” I stopped her in her tracks. “Where are you going?” I asked.
She casted a look of confusion on me that meant I should already know the answer to my own question.
I shrugged and tried to smile. “No. Stay!”
If eyes carried guns, I should have dropped dead from the stare she shot back at me.
“I am serious.” I said sternly and allowed the smile on my face to broaden as I walked over to one of the recliners. Victory just stood there, looking at me, lost. I took in a deep breath and tapped on the second seat where she was sitting earlier.
“C’mon, come back to your seat.” I urged her on.
We’ve never been in the same space before let alone a few inches away but I reckoned it was high time I stopped making her feel like a stranger in her new home. I overheard mum talking about her new school. She’d been put in the same school I finished from. Cliché.
“So…” I started. “Ehmm… Heard you now attend Kingdom Heritage?”
She pushed her two hands in between her thigh and wouldn’t even look in my direction as she nodded in the affirmative.
I cleared my throat. Unsure of what next to ask even though I was ready to hold a first conversation with her at all cost, I found a good place to start, however awkward the question seemed.
“Ehmm… what do you want to do when you graduate?”
She chuckled shyly.
“Everything.” She said.
The look in my eyes said I-don’t-understand.
She smiled and started. “I want to do everything. All of it. But…” she paused abruptly and tightened her palms into each other more. “Apparently, I am supposed to choose just one and I can’t seem to do that. So…”
She angled her head in a funny manner that made me titter lightly.
“That’s why I love to come here.” She continued, her voice tender. “The stars always seem to help.”
I took in a deep breath and held it. Letting myself settle into the recliner properly, I looked up at the sky too. It spread out like a thick Kampala with tiny white patterns immersed in black dyes. The view looked so heavenly that I didn’t know when ‘wow’ escaped my lips.
“Mmmm…” Victory concurred. “Oh! I love the stars.” She sighed.
I brought my eyes to her and caught the brightness in her eyes from the corner of her face. Just at the same time, she turned to me also.
“I usually go sailing in the boat of the fishermen in Ibaji, my village, a lot when I was a little kid, and you have not seen stars until you’ve seen them on the open river.” She giggled.
I returned my gaze to the sky and let the warmth from its beautiful appearance engulf me.
“Do you see that, right there?” Victory dragged my attention to her first finger pointing upwards.
“That little blob of light?” I asked, pointing my little finger in the same direction.
She nodded. “That’s right. The little blob of light.” She paused and I looked at her, anxious. “It’s called the Andromeda. That’s the farthest thing visible to the naked eyes actually.”
“What is it? A star?” I asked out of curiosity. I wondered whether she was already taking Geography classes.
Victory shook her head from right to left. “No, it is a galaxy. See, our sun is one star in the Milky Way Galaxy. Do you know how many stars are in the Milky Way?” She raised her eyebrow, waiting for my response.
I laughed out. “I have not the slightest idea.”
“Three hundred billion,” she said and I nodded as though I was the one that told her the answer.
That made her laugh.
“And Andromeda is a galaxy with one trillion stars. They all shine together. So that, sir Ayegba, is the definition of wonder.” She swallowed and sighed loudly.
For the first time, addressing me as ‘sir’ didn’t sound okay coming from her mouth any longer. I just joggled between placing my attention on her and on the galaxy she’s so thrilled about.
“God is so infinitely deep and this is His painting. The best artists paint with brushes, He paints with a billion stars and a trillion galaxies. And He knows my name.”
I turned to look at her, awestruck.
“The God of a trillion stars knows my name.” she added as I looked on like I’d lost every sense of speech. “And He has a destiny just for me too.” She hesitated and nodded her head, totally convinced by what she’s saying. “And I am going to figure it out, someday.”
She exhaled and moved herself backwards until her back hit the backrest of the recliner.
I exhaled hot air I didn’t know I’d been holding onto the whole time and let my back rest too.
Never quite told anyone, but that very night, I just knew; a girl with such a depth can never be just a sister. Right there, I promised myself that I was going to marry her.
Over the years, she has grown and I’m convinced that so is her depth. I just need her to trust me enough to talk to me. To tell me exactly what happened.
I take a deep calming breath as I raise my hand to tap on her door. I agree her room is a no-go-area. She’d tapped on my door to inform me dinner was served some minutes ago and while I thought I’d be able to hold at least one meaningful conversation with her over dinner, she didn’t show up. I am guessing she decided to eat in her bedroom instead.
There are three bedrooms in this house. One upstairs, occupied by Mona, the one downstairs being the visitor’s room I am in and then this one adjacent Mona’s room. All the times she’s had to sleep over here since my arrival, she doesn’t stay in same room with Mona. Attah affirmed it too that his mum always stays in her own room whenever they are here in Uncle Mona’s house. The mere thought that maybe she’s still holding onto her childhood beliefs on sexual chastity makes me smile.
I tap on the door for the second time, yet no response. I don’t think it’s a good idea to open the door on her and barge in just like that but I can’t stop myself. I push the door open but inside the room, there’s no one. I look at the different framed photographs on the wall, particularly noticing the one of an Andromeda on the left corner of the room. Below the beautiful photo is a foot note, ‘the God of a trillion stars knows my name.’
A smile moves from my lips to light up my face. She must have taken and framed this photograph herself. As I remember everything the stars and galaxies signifies for her, a strange alarm rings in my head.
She didn’t tell me she wasn’t staying over and couldn’t have left without informing me either.
I storm out of the room and head downstairs in the direction of the sitting room to find my phone. Something tells me to call Mona and perhaps find out if Ileanwa told him she was going out but I decide against that thought. I will search the building instead and if I don’t find her after that, then I can consider other options… including locating her apartment in Bodija – a place I’d been to just once.
Thankfully, as I step out through the door leading out from the kitchen, she’s right at the balcony. She has headphones on and nodding her head slowly to the rhythm of whatever she was listening to. Her eyes are unflinchingly staring at the vast space in front of her and her right foot is tapping nervously against the tiled floor.
“You are not eating dinner?” I say quietly, willing to bet she’s not going to hear me but to my surprise, she nods from right to left.
“I hope you enjoyed your meal?” she asks
I swallow against a tightening on my throat. “Mmmm.”
She pulls the headphone off her ears and turns in my direction.
“Surprised I heard your question, huh? I knew when you opened the kitchen door. I knew you’d come looking for me.”
“Right.” I croak out nervously, pushing my hands inside the coin pocket of my jean trouser.
“Look. I am sorry I didn’t tell you about Attah.” She bites her lips and looks up, holding my gaze. “I think not telling you was a way to keep my dreams alive. That, at least, there’s someone out there who still sees me as Victory, and not this strange person I’ve become.” A lone tear rolls down her face and I feel every fibre in my heart snap.
This confession is taking me unawares but there’s no earlier time to know the truth.
“So you’re getting married to Mona?” I ask.
I know that’s the dumbest question to ask right now but I need to get an urgent clarification of some sort.
She hesitates, unsure of the right words to say to me. I could see the battle in her mind through the white of her eyes. Victory has always been see-through for me.
“I just wanted to belong with someone, Ayegba. I was tired of bearing the mess that was my life all by myself and it felt good with Mona. We are a family now.”
I don’t let her statement get to me. Victory is my family and mine alone. I heave in a deep sigh and close the distance between us. I can hear her heart racing loudly, loud enough to send her packing from the world but so is mine. I pick her right palm and use it to wipe the teardrop on her smooth cheeks.
“You should have told me notwithstanding, Vee. We promised not to hide anything from each other.”
She smiles amidst her tears.
“Do you think it was easy for me?” She furrowed her forehead.
“Every single day, I wished I could see you one more time. Perhaps, we can watch the stars together one more time, have one more breakfast, one more lunch and one more dinner. I would have been full thereafter and maybe then we can part. In between meals, maybe we can run to mum’s kitchen and make one more set of bread toasts.
“I desired one more prolonged moment with you, Ayegba, when time suspends indefinitely as I rest my head on your chest. And amidst all those wishes, I was merely hoping that if we get to add up the ‘one mores’, there would equal to a lifetime and I would never have to go away.”
Her voice trembles and like keys of the Kainji going off suddenly, hot uncontrollable searing tears gush down her face. There’s a rawness to her tears, like her heart is being panel-beaten and soldered by the hurtful memories she’s recounting.
I pull her in for a hug, digging my fingers in her full braids.
“I am sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me the most, Vee. Truth is, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know where to begin searching for you. You didn’t leave any note or message for me and mum blatantly refused to say anything helpful. Oh! How I still hate her for that.” Anger spills out in my words.
Ileanwa withdraws from the hug enough to see my face. Tears have smeared the powder on her face and right now she looks like one of her oil paintings.
“You hate who for what, please?” She asks.
“Mum!” I snap. “How could she bear to send you away knowing fully well you were carrying my son?”
“Oh no. No!” Ileanwa cut in, sitting upright on her seat. “No. Mum didn’t know.”
I blink in confusion and look up at her. “Mum didn’t know what? What do you mean?” I ask, all the strength gone from my voice.
Ileanwa tightens her lips and looks on at me with eyes she must think are convincing enough
To be continued.
- Could it be that Ayegba has been mad at his mother all these while (over a decade) for nothing? Or, Ileanwa is trying to cover up something?
- Who should Ileanwa confess to first? Attah about his paternity or Mona about her past?