“You are my life; my entire world. You came into my life and made every past disappointment make sense. I cannot imagine a forever without you. Marry me Uju. Please, marry me.”
I stand there, stunned, like I did not know this was going to happen. But I did see it coming, I did- when my favourite ring suddenly went missing three months ago, and when he tried to ‘surreptitiously’ take a photograph of my fingers. Someone who would roll his eyes when I requested selfies (ussies) was all of a sudden interested in capturing the intricate details of my fingers, just because. Yeah right. But seeing it coming, did not stop me from blinking rapidly, like a deer caught in headlights, unable to move. The tears start to fall and I do not bother trying to stop them. The small cheering crowd, as if to remind me of their presence, is egged on at the sight of my tears and cheer even louder; “Say yes! Say yes”. I cup my hands over my mouth, to buy some time. My mind is racing all over the place, grasping at anything, everything and nothing until it finally settles on that piece I’d written all those years ago. The one that I have re-opened more than once in the last month. It was a futuristic view of myself at 65, and I had vowed to avoid becoming that person.
Now, here I am, possibly about to become her with a simple word;
“Honey I’m home!”
I put down my novel and unfurl my slim frame from the brown velvet chaise lounge on which I’d been reclining. My husband is home. It will take a few seconds to walk to the entrance of my library/study/hideout. Enough time to gather myself and brace my lips for the saliva with which they were about to be accosted. I would then arrange my face into a welcoming smile that belied my true feelings; feelings so powerful, they have wrapped their gnarled fingers around my heart, threatening to squeeze the life out.
I’m not sure.
I have a husband who loves me. My first daughter is an accomplished architect, my only son is about to complete his MBA abroad and my baby girl (I smile as I remember the way she cringes when I call her that in public) will soon begin her penultimate year in university. She’ll make a fine lawyer one day, that one.
As managing director of Mideas Bank, it can be said that I’ve done very well for myself.
What is there to regret?
I’d always wanted to be a writer; and write I could. I remember telling my Mama whenever I finished reading a new novel she’d brought home that I was going to grow up and write stories for the whole world to read. I excelled in essays and even won a few competitions here and there. Pre-NYSC, I did a bit of editing work and wrote for a couple of magazines. My parents were happy; they liked that my ‘hobby’ made me small money on the side.
Post-NYSC, I got a bank job because everyone knows that you have to get a real job after NYSC. Right? So I did. But I had a plan. I would work for a while then get married. If my husband wasn’t earning enough to support the family alone at the time, I’d wait till he was and then I’d leave the bank and venture into writing full time.
I met Tunji right after NYSC at a friend’s birthday gig. He was…nice. He looked nice, spoke nice, smelled nice; he was the quintessential nice guy. He was a mid-level employee at a small private company at that time with hopes and dreams and potential. I was very comfortable around him and we became fast friends. From the beginning, I knew he wanted more and so when he kissed me after the movies that first day, I didn’t stop him. I didn’t kiss him back either. Somehow he didn’t give me butterflies. We kinda started dating sometime after that. We broke it off -or rather I broke it off- a couple of times but somehow we always got back together. I did love him in a way, and we were so used to each other. But he still didn’t give me butterflies. It didn’t come as a surprise to me or everyone around when he asked me to marry him three years later. We had indirectly talked about it. We had met each other’s families. I told him I needed time. He said to take all the time I needed. Nice, sweet Tunji. I didn’t have butterflies. I thought about all the other guys that wanted to marry me. Most of them had more money. One of them was heir to a fortune. I thought about my sweet, loving, considerate Tunji.
Chioma said butterflies only happened in the movies. Bimpe said no grown woman needed butterflies. My mama said what was important was that we loved each other. Biology said that, at 29, my time was running out. Why give up the man in one hand for a winged creature one hadn’t even sighted yet, no matter how colourful it may seem?
Our wedding was…nice. I kept my bank job, waiting for his potential to turn into kinetic. The children started coming. I continued waiting. Diapers, cribs and preschool. Still I waited. Thirteen years into our marriage he lost his middle level job. Like a good wife, I told him not to worry that I’d cover for him while we waited for him to get another. Maybe it was God’s way of moving him to something better. Maybe I would finally quit this job that was draining the life out of me slowly. Perhaps I’d still get to write that novel. So I covered. Boarding house, tantrums and Masters Degrees. I kept covering. Covering and waiting, covering and waiting. Day after day, when he’d come home crestfallen after another day on the streets trying to get a job, I’d be there smiling with open arms, hot food and open legs. Even though I hated my job with every vein in my body, I did more than endure it; I excelled at it. I was determined to be the perfect wife and mother.
As we grew older, he stopped seeking employment and came up with all sorts of business schemes and proposals. I continued in my role as the good wife; smiling, cooking, sexing and funding the hare-brained schemes.
Its 32 years after and I’m still smiling. Not as brightly though. My dreams of being a famous novelist were just that: dreams. The novel I was just reading is the first I’ve read in decades. The only reason I’m at home and have time to read it is because I had to take a compulsory leave after I collapsed at work last Tuesday. “Fatigue”, the doctor said. Weariness, my heart corrected. I hate my life. I love my children. My husband. I love him. And then I hate him. I hate him for being the reason my heart flutters a little each time Chinedu Ubaka comes to my office. You see, Chinedu is an extremely successful business man and one of the bank’s most important clients. He is very well spoken, well read and well-travelled. He is also divorced. And he likes me. He’s put it out there but he doesn’t push it; he wants me to “take my time”. I feel him watching me whenever he comes in for a meeting. I wonder if he notices that I’m freshly made up every time. I can’t help it, I like him too. Or I like the idea of him, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the idea of his success that I like. Maybe if Tunji was successful I wouldn’t feel this way.
So I hate him. Because I love him. I hate him because I love him. Every time he looks at me with failure in his eyes I fight the urge the grab him by the collar and shake the lights out of him, screaming, “Get up off your sorry ass and turn your potential into kinetic, goddammit! This was not the life you promised me!”
They say the ‘fairy tale’ happens only in the movies. So I settled for real life. Shouldn’t real life pay off? I did the right thing and married my ‘Nice guy’. I did not follow the other guys with their money. I could have been wife to the bloody heir to a fortune. I did not hold out for the man that would give me butterflies; I settled for common sense. I followed the rules. I should be happy.
Shouldn’t I be happy?
The tug from Okey’s small sweaty hands bring me from the possible future back to the present. Even if I pretend not to hear him, I can no longer ignore the questioning look in his eyes. The crowd is quiet now, but somehow they are louder. The camera clicks are more furious, lights flashing more rapidly.