Your Brief Bio:
My name is Precious Chinenye Okechukwu, a graduate of Linguistics and communication studies from the University of Portharcout. I am an avid lover of literature, good food and witty conversations. I also believe in humanity and that everyone has a right to a purpose of self.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
A story of love, as seen through the eyes of a woman who made a choice despite all odds, to surrender to a love that was bound to fail from the beginning.
The year is 1976.
You know I always remember.
I heard the distorted cries from the scantily clad children as they chased your car down the dusty road. I dumped my tray of groundnuts on the ground and followed, even though Chinyere warned me not to, as usual.
It is a good thing that I have enough rebellion for the both of us.
So I trailed you until you pulled over at Sheikh Danjuma’s house, and even though my feet ached and perspiration dampened my blouse, I knew I needed to see what you looked like, how you smelled. I had never met any person who had been to London before.
“Kawu! Kawu! Kawu! – Uncle! Uncle! Uncle!” the children descended on you the minute you opened the car door, a tangled mass of arms and legs.
I edged closer, craning my neck until it looked ready to snap. Sheikh Danjuma had come out to welcome his son, but I did not care that he saw me.
It was in this moment, that I caught your eye.
Even now, I cannot tell you why I ran. I took one look at you, my legs grew a mind of their own, and I did not stop until I had reached my house. Then, I cursed my own foolishness.
Do you remember, Hafeez?
That night, as we lay side by side on the mat, I poked Chinyere’s shoulder constantly so she wouldn’t sleep off. I wanted to tell her all about you. Even after I had described your head full of hair, and your lean muscled body, I grasped for the most mundane details; like the benign smile that curved your lips as you embraced each child – one by one. I told her too, about the birth mark on your left arm, the one that looked like a badly drawn tattoo. Do you remember how I teased you with it? That when you asked me to kiss your lips, I kissed it first and then you said I was doing nyanga? I thought it sounded funny coming from a Londoner like you.
The only thing I did not tell Chinyere was that you had seen me too. Without knowing it, I had already begun to weave our secret. And not even my sister would know about it.
The next day was a memorable one, you must remember. Kano was alive with news of the General’s assassination. I remember how agitated Father was, screaming; “Ewo!” as he summoned the neighbours, and like bees to honey, they trooped to our house, speaking so loudly that their voices seemed to merge into one and disappear into thin air; none could hear what the other was saying.
It was my chance to sneak away. What did it matter that the General was dead? Tomorrow, there would be another General anyway.
I liked to take long walks on days like this, when everyone was too preoccupied to be bothered about where I was going. I did not know that I would see you, or I would have worn my best dress, the one that later became your favourite – sun flower prints on powder blue fabric.
You fell in step beside me so easily, so naturally. But I was caught completely off guard, and you laughed at the shock I failed to conceal. It is something I understood much later, this warmth that was enveloping without being threatening, it was like drinking water on a sunny day – It filled me with contentment and, what is that word, peace? I don't know what it means anymore.
“My run away friend. It is interesting to see that you are only walking today,” You said, with laughter in your voice.
I smiled too, but I could not meet your eyes. I had imagined that you would speak through your nose like the Europeans, but your voice possessed a rich Hausa lilt, and I liked the way you seemed to weigh each word before uttering them.
“My name is Hafeez.”
I was lost in the wonder of your well-oiled afro, framing your head like a halo. Not a strand was out of place. I imagined what it would feel like to ruffle that perfection, to pull clumps of your hair and transform it into a set of cornrows.
“Well, do you have a name?” You broke into my thoughts, laughing again.
I squared my shoulders, tilted my chin, and met your eye. “Anwuli. My name is Anwuli.”
“You have such a beautiful voice. You should speak more often, Anwuli.”
New warmth crept unto my skin as I mentally stored the words to reminisce on later. But in that moment, I feigned irritation.
“You have no idea how sharp my tongue is! you know nothing about me!”
With that, I made to hurry on but you touched my arm and your eyes shone with plea.
“Please walk with me, Anwuli. Forgive my rudeness. I should never be presumptuous.”
You extended a hand, and I took it. It was the beginning of many walks to come, of days fading quickly into the nights where we would convene at the place, our secret.
Why do I bother you with the stories that you already know? Because this will give me the courage to tell the other stories, the ones that you do not yet know.
Remember how we discovered the place? We walked for miles, weaving through the stalls that lined the streets in Dala. Weathered faces split into grins as people recognised you, and to each one, you would say; “Sannu Da Zuwa” with that tranquil smile. Do you know that I only have to shut my eyes to see it all over again?
The place was a lonely hilly path, shrouded in greenery. I did not like it as first, but your enthusiasm was infectious, and the place became our safe haven. Here, we did not speak of the things that might happen if our parents found out. We spoke only of our eternity, the love that would stretch as far as the path we trod. We spoke of the stars that sometimes drifted to one another in the night sky.
You called them Orion, and I know you loved to hear me squeal whenever they appeared, so much that even when the constellation no longer excited me, I still wiggled myself into your arms when they lit the sky and made exaggeratedly happy sounds.
Then you would not let me leave the warmth of your body, as I tried to evade your kisses. We know this game well; it usually ends with your tongue in my mouth, and my hands splayed across your chest.
You are the only one I ever told that I sometimes hate my sister. She would whine about our clandestine meetings, threatening to tell Father.
“Anwuli hapu nwoke nka, biko – Leave that man alone, please,” She often wailed. “He is not one of us. What is the end to this ungodly behaviour?”
It became her daily mantra, and I began to withdraw from her. I no longer folded myself in between her laps and let her play with my hair when we came out in the evenings with our tray of groundnuts, or prodded her shoulders mercilessly at bed time. My days were only a necessary sojourn into the nights that had become yours.
On a rainy night in June, Sheikh Danjuma appeared on our door step, trembling lividly. He told Father that he did not send his son to London only to return and spit in his face. He warned him to keep me away from his son or he would kill somebody, in sha Allah.
That night, Father almost killed me. He smeared my buttocks with red pepper and asked Chinyere to fetch his koboko. But did they really think that your father’s threats and my father’s koboko would stop us from going to the place? I was wrought in disbelief.
The next time we met, you held onto me until I thought I would suffocate and you did not mind that I was bawling like a baby. I wept mostly because of the angry bruise above your left eye that you refused to talk about, the unfamiliarity of your unblinking stare.
It was the first time we made love, Hafeez. You were gentle and urgent in turns, and my tears made dark patches on your shirt as the crimson wetness leaked down my thighs.
You promised then that you would marry me, and I thought it was funny, because I had always known, you see. I had already begun to name our children, and if you had not asked me, I would have asked myself.
I love you Hafeez. So much that it is frightening.
The following month, my monthly visitor evaded me, and the wheels began to spin in my head. I could be pregnant! We could run away together!
I went to the place to wait for you, but you did not come. Not that night, nor the one after, nor the ones that followed. I thought that you must have fallen ill, and so I began to keep Chinyere awake most nights because I never learned the art of silent praying. I have never believed in God as much as I did in those moments, begging Him to spare your life as I clutched a bible to my chest, a bible so rarely used that its pages still smelled distinctly of newness.
One day, you drove past my house, and I ran after you like a crazed person, screaming your name. The dust that billowed in the aftermath of your roaring engine brought me to my knees; I coughed until I began to vomit.
“Anwuli a turu ime oh! - Anwuli is pregnant!” Chinyere rushed to my side, screaming at the top of her lungs. If I had had any strength left in me, I would have slapped her.
The weeks after passed in a blur, but I will never forget the look in Father’s eyes as he said; “You are an abomination. Aru!, and no daughter of mine will birth a bastard”
Our child, Hafeez. A bastard.
The midwife was kind, she even prayed with me as she prodded my insides with her sharp utensils. I watched her scoop the remains of our child in a bottle, and wrap it in a nylon bag. I watched the way her eyes focused on the table as she scraped it with a sponge, as though there was something there more intriguing than streaks of my dried blood.
“It is all for the best,” she said to me.
“It is all for the best,” Father re-echoed on the day he sent me off to marry Nnamdi, a trader in Lagos whom I had never met.
The night before I left, I went to the place again. But I did not find you. I threw my body to the ground and said a prayer. Still you did not come.
I must consider myself lucky because my new husband was a good man with a kind heart, unlike the man Chinyere later married, who beat her like a thief everytime she birthed a female child. My husband does not know any ballads or constellations, but he is patient, and because of this, I did all the things that a wife should do to please her husband, and even though it did not fill the emptiness in my soul or my womb with child, it was the reason why my eyes were dry. Even when Chinyere wrote, in one of her letters, that you had married, my eyes remained dry.
The year is 1981.
I came as soon as I heard.
They say it is the worst that Kano has seen since the civil war, and I am standing in front of the ruins that used to be your home.
It is in the aftermath of Yan Tatsine, The killings of thousands of Muslims, orchestrated by a man who had declared himself Prophet Muhammad.
I stare unseeingly at the clouds above, and in this moment, my eyes are dry still.
I know that our story began right here, but it is not what I am thinking about.
I think instead, about the fire that razed your body. Did you struggle to escape? Or were you lying on your back with your hands laced behind your head, and your eyelids fluttering momentarily as you slept? As the flames licked your hair and your face and your neck, did you think about the cries of your family members, echoing around you? Did you reach out to clutch your wife's hand? Did you say a quick prayer as you fought for your last breath? Did you think of me?
It is selfish, but I like to believe that you thought of me, that this is not a memory from a sweet dream, as I sometimes imagine it to be. Hafeez, you will never know that I call out your name in my sleep, and my husband greets me in the morning with worry lines etched in his forehead. You will never know that I almost bore your child.
This is why I write to you. But I am unravelling, my body racks with tears that have waited years to be shed.
The tears leave a salty taste in my mouth, and I want to shrink myself into a child again. I want to hurl my body to the ashes and scream your name until I disappear, like the waning smoke. I know that Chinyere is staring at me; waiting for me to finish mourning the love of my reckless youth and go back to whom I have become, but I don’t see her. I am aware only, of the warmth on my face from the fumes that swallowed you, or maybe it is the tears.
I ask too many questions, but you will have to forgive me. Maybe you will speak to me the way God speaks to His children as the white men first told us; why did you never return to the place? Why did you drive past my house without a backward glance? Why did you not tell me why?