What If

pensive African woman

I was 18 when we broke up; 18 years, 11 months and 29 days old to be precise. He attacked my weight again, I remember it like it was yesterday. The first time he did it, I can’t remember what we were talking about but arthritis came up and he said I should watch my weight or something like that. Basically, “you are getting fat”. That was the beginning of the end because come on, he knew how sensitive I was on the matter.

Well this time, I decided, would be the last. If all his love did was make me feel wretched, then it was pointless loving him. So I called it off. I knew he would come back, and come back he did. Suddenly, my weight was not an issue anymore.

Anyway this story is not about him. This story is about another ‘him’; the kind of ‘him’ that marks himself.  You know…right up there. He is like that scar you alone know of, the one you often find yourself fondly rubbing your hands over. The kind of scar that makes you smile. This story is about him.

I was 18 when I met him; 18 years, 11 months old to be precise. Funny how ‘met’ as a word is now very subjective, what with social media and its array of networks. I remember it like it was yesterday. I commented on something, he replied, I replied his reply, he replied mine…and we got talking. You know how you meet a guy and unconsciously compare him with your father, and oh the joy it brings when he checks every box. If you have your dad as a benchmark – Daddy’s girl club – you’d know exactly how I felt. Because this dude checked every box and moved on to circles.

We did not date, it was not practical considering the distance. But oh my, the chemistry, it sizzled hot and fierce on both sides. I had hit jackpot and boy, did I have plans! I would graduate at 22 and go on to Lagos Law School so we can officially be together. Then NYSC, settle in Lagos and live happily ever after with four kids; three boys and a girl in a big house with…well, we could work out the other details later.

Then I turned 20. They say when you get older you have more answers. If that is true, something must be wrong with my growth. My birthday that year came with a lot of ‘what ifs’ – “what if I only get into Law School in Abuja?”, “what if I am drafted for NYSC in Sokoto?”, “what if his genes are allergic to mine?”, and “wait oh…what if he does not feel the same way?” And in all of these ‘what ifs’, there were no answers.

I have always wanted to be mature, to really live in the 21st century as a 21st century woman. Gender Equality! If you like him, tell him, et cetera. Anyway, I told him how I felt. And in response, he officially asked me out. Not the answer I was expecting but an answer nonetheless. It felt nice at first. I finally could call him “baby”…aloud – oh yes, I used to say it in my head – and I could end the calls with” I love you”. But distance, the witch that she is, refused to let it be.

I couldn’t kiss him or hold his hands; we couldn’t touch each other or “touch” each other. No dates whatsoever – forget all that Skype. There were no eye to eye declarations of love or playful tickling that ends in bed with panting and sweating and no clothes on. Yes, we connected intellectually. Yes, relationships go beyond physical needs but…I don’t know, it just was not enough for me, for us. And so we broke up.

Looking back now, I think we just missed being friends that we did not work to actually be a couple. We became just friends again and yes it was awkward – going back from “hi baby” and “I love you” to “hey buddy” and “guy, pack well”. But we got over it. We were die-hard friends!

I told you the first one came back, right? Not my ‘jackpot’ now, I mean the first ‘him’ with the weight issue. Yes, he came back and became a good boy, always on his best behavior. He was safe and secure – no sizzles, no hot and fierce whirlwind of emotions. It was not the same as with my ‘jackpot’ but it was something good. I was not lonely, needy or desperate. So I settled.

Sometimes, I imagine what my life would have been with my ‘jackpot’. “What if I had waited and kept my mouth shut?”, “what if I had met him at another time, under different circumstances?”, “what if we had held on to each other just a little longer?” Even at 32, I still ‘what if’; like I said earlier, something is wrong with the way I grow.

Now I look across the table at my ‘best behavior’, and I look at the little one we conceived on one of those rainy nights when holiness flees and everything is possible. And I smile. Yes, I lost my ‘jackpot’ and I settled with my ‘best behavior’ but this right here…this little man in the high chair, gurgling cute nothings and trailing cereal all over his cherubic face, this is my pot of gold.

By Ezinma Ukairo.

Ezinma enjoys good music, food, books and movies. She is currently in her third year at the university where she is studying law so that she can promote the beauty of womanhood, and end child marriage and world hunger. Ezinma is afraid of ever having to just ‘settle’ in a relationship, but she keeps a closed mind to all the ‘unwanted stuff’ and continues to believe in love.

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Dear future me…

dear

Dear future me,

WHO AM I?

That is the question I was born with this morning.

In between puffs of cigarette smoke, our mutual friend asked, who are you? You should remember…I laughed, loud and hard, and opened my mouth to answer – but nothing.

I did not know. I do not know who I am.

You know me very well, brother, so you can understand why it came as a shock that I couldn’t answer that question. Shouldn’t I have had it all figured out? Shouldn’t I have had for an answer, words of wisdom, with fancy conjunctions stringing together their exquisitely-woven philosophies? I should have, right? But I did not. And I can‘t help but wonder if that is an answer by itself.

I do not know how long it has been for you since we wrote this letter, but I hope – I really hope – that you have an answer by now. There is also a lot more that I hope you are by now. There are some I hope you aren’t as well.

I hope our family is a huge part of who you are. I hope our parents are alive and aging well. I hope Poppa hasn’t gone bald (for both our sakes) and he still enjoys walking around the house in baggy Ankara trousers and looping singlets. I hope he still derives pleasure in swinging that broom – to rid cobwebs from a corner – or machete – to trim those flowers – or whatever equipment it is he is besotted with at the moment, with which he tends the house. I hope he has a lucrative line selling in Onitsha or Nnewi and that the umunna meetings he attends these days are filled more with laughter and camaraderie than anything else. I also hope he now has time to sit in the garden at night, surrounded by luxuriant grass swimming in a flood of garden-light, sipping something healthy and reading books. Somehow I know the dude is a reader, he just had to give it up even before he had the chance to choose it.

I hope Maama is old and agile, like granny; I hope the calls are less frequent, where she narrates her dreams and prescribes the bible verses that would cure the impending doom. I hope she still calls to pray for you and run her business ideas by you. Even though you do not need it, she probably tells you about every new job opening in the Federal Ministry because “government jobs dikwa very reliable”; I know you know to pretend to listen every time and say you’ll think about it. I know she’ll probably never be worry-less but I hope she is very happy, and that she got that doctorate degree she always wanted. I hope she has a horde of grandchildren whom she can fuss over, and worry over, and whom she can tell more of those folktales we heard very few of.

Talking of grandchildren, I hope you contributed – maybe even still contributing – a sizable chunk of that lot. I hope our siblings are well and alive, and still bound together by the laughter and unpretentiousness that made our childhood memorable. I hope you and Piro found a way to buy more land in one place, so that you built your houses within walking distance of each other, no gates or fences in between. I hope the girls visit during Christmas with their families, and I hope you all stay awake long into the night, gisting about nothing in particular, reminiscing and playing video games. And when the kids fall asleep, I hope they can do so easily and stay till morning regardless of whose house they are in at the time, Poppa’s, Piro’s or yours.

Fiona thinks what I just wrote doesn’t make any sense – yes, she’s reading over my shoulder; the woman never learnt either of courtesy or coyness. You know how big and chummy a family she comes from so she can’t possibly understand why I would, in her words, “make something so little to coman be looking imirimious”. This woman i

It’s been six hours since I typed that last ‘I’. After Fiona yabbed what I wrote, I shot back – I called her Phyno and told her to go collabo with Wande cole if she had nothing better doing. She hates it when any reference is made to the straggly hairs that occasionally sprout on her chin but I have boyfriend immunity so I call her Phyno. When I hit her with the line, she smacked me over the head; I spat chewed gum at her, and she started a pillow fight. We went through the throw pillows in the sitting room and went on to the large-size fluffy pillows in the bedroom and then…why am I recounting this? You know exactly what happened afterwards.

Anyway, Phyno is asleep now and I hope you married her. Because she’s a great girl. She says I only say it to get in her pants but you and I know I mean it when I say that she makes imperfection look perfect. I hope you married her and if you didn’t, I hope you married a truly beautiful woman who is your best friend. And I hope she married a man who loves her even more than I love her now.

Because you married her, I am sure that you love your wife with all that you are and will ever be (if you still have time left). I hope that she loves you just as much. I hope your dreams and passions align so that neither of you has to die so that the other can live; movies make those sad endings look sweet but really, man, the Word says that God gave us the earth and its fullness for a reason – to savor it!

I hope you know the Bible well enough now to know what verse it is I just quoted…and I hope you just smiled because there is no such verse. Or is there? Anyway, I hope you love our God nearly as much as I try to and I hope you worship him in the people whose paths cross yours every day.

I hope the future isn’t as shitty as we fear it will be. If it is, I know you have found a way to be happy while keeping life sane and productive in your immediate environment. I hope you have not given up on hope of a better future too; tell the children the lores of how we right now live in fear and suspicion of our own kin; use characters like the tortoise and the lion to relay to them how we in their past, go to bed afraid we’ll never wake only to wake wishing we never did. Don’t scare them oh, you bully; okay, scare them a little if you must, but let them learn the lesson – they must learn to live together like brothers or they will perish together as fools. For the adults, the ones with whom we dreamt big, drank down and pissed it all away, tell them you lot haven’t failed yet. For as long as you breathe and your hearts thud, failure cannot laugh in your faces yet. Don’t let him.

If it isn’t – if the future is not as shitty as we fear it will be – then I am glad I was one of those who hoped. I am glad that somewhere along the line, we did something right, something different, and turned it around for better. And I hope I played my part.

I read Long Walk to Freedom again today – don’t bother saying it. It’s just that I am constantly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the sacrifice he and all those other good people had to make for the prize of freedom. There are times when I find that I am all fired up about the good fight – like two days ago when the members of parliament ‘turned up’ in full glare of the public eye, or that time Piro was arrested and detained for not giving up his seat on the bus to a uniformed man. Times like that, I see thorns, red thorns.

But there are also those times when I think about the ‘goods’ of my life, and I find that I am not fired up for any fight whatsoever, good or bad. Like yesterday, just sitting, all snuggled up and watching Chioma Jesus music videos with Fiona; and that time last week when I stumbled upon that video clip from last Christmas, of mum dancing Alanta while we cheered. Times like that, I see roses, red roses.

I hope having to worry about such is already in your past. Because it would mean you survived it all. Evil thrives in a society when the good men do nothing – true; but it also thrives in a society where the good men are in a hurry to be good and get themselves killed off. There is a reason martyrs never get to laugh last.

I hope you never have to choose that path; I hope you never have to choose between the people or/and the things you love. And if it ever happens that you have to, I hope that somewhere in the life I have already lived, the life I am living now, or the life I will live before I become you, we learnt something that will help you make the right choice.

If you kept your part of our bargain, then it’s our birthday today. As you celebrate, I hope you have grown – not just aged – but really grown with every passing second of this shy but ruthless fellow called time. I trust that you are not worse, neither are you the same person I am right now; you are a better person. For that reason alone, it’s a pleasure knowing that I’ll be you.

Happy birthday.

Yours,

Me.

I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter

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