No matter what happens, love would always win.
I sat on a rickety bench with a woman selling French apples by the busy road. The wait was a long one. It was half an hour after the time we scheduled to meet. I began to tell myself that I had outdone myself this time, that she wasn't going to show up. It was strange that I was in that part of town at all. It was stranger that I had come all the way because of a girl. My phone buzzed; I reached for it. It was her; an SMS apologising for the delay and requesting that I wait for another ten minutes. After twelve minutes, she called. I left the apple-seller's stall, thanking her for her hospitality. In the distance, a few steps away, she stood, dressed in a pink saree and a white hijab that reached her shoulders. I walked up to her and raised my phone to her face. She smiled as she saw her name on the screen and she put down her phone. Unable to hide her surprise, she said, "You are Olamide?" "Yes, I am," I began. "Nice to meet you."
Though we had spoken with each other on the phone every day over the last four weeks, this was the first time we laid eyes on each other - Omolabake and I. It turned out to be the first in a series of the weirdest and most puzzling encounters I ever had with a stranger. Up until that afternoon, I had felt my greatest challenge was going to be having to look into her eyes. Omolabake stood in front of me and I felt blood drain out of me. I tried not to stare and yet to take it all in: twelve deep, darkly shaded, long tribal marks roughly etched on her cheeks. Six marks on each cheek: three vertical ones standing proudly on three horizontal ones.
Omolabake and I lived in the same town – half an hour away from each other by cab – but in two different worlds. That afternoon was her first time on my side of town. She loved its beauty but she didn't believe it was for her type. The current trends in my world were the future in hers: BlackBerrys were hard to come by on her side of town; the iPad, which was a toy in my area, was totally unheard of in hers. We reached an eatery but right from the moment we walked in, she kept her gaze down. She refused to eat anything. I got a bottle of Coke and tried to push a conversation with her about her world but she made very few contributions, and wouldn’t let me sit too close. As more people walked into the eatery, the more uneasy Omolabake got. She could feel eyes drilling holes through her. I drew close to her and hugged her. She seemed to relax. That was the first time we talked about the marks. "The story of the marks is a tragedy," Omolabake explained. "It’s a story of a coming and a going.”
I called Omolabake that evening; she sounded sullen. The talk had no direction till I asked her: "What if I told you I loved you?" She burst into derisive laughter. Her answer came quickly: "No way!!!" My brows furrowed. "Why?" I asked. She giggled and replied: "Someone like you cannot love someone like me; that must be a joke!" There was silence. "Olamide!" she began, "don't encourage that thought. Even if you did, the people in your world will stifle it. They'll kill it before you got a chance to die for it. Even if you can love me for who I am, what about your friends? Co-workers? What about your family...what about your mother?” I heard fear squeeze through the words. “We're too far apart; it won't work," she concluded. I said nothing because it hurt that she wouldn't love a man like me; not because I wasn't the kind of man she desired but because she believed I wasn't the kind of man she deserved. I began to wonder whether she was right. The call ended with a plan to meet again in six days.
Nothing changed over the six days except the weather. The rains poured on us, keeping me locked indoors most evenings after work. Alone with my thoughts for six days, I got chills from both the rains and Omolabake's paranoia. At last, the day came. Omolabake had waited for me in the same eatery. In her fitted purple top and black jeans, she looked adorable. She tucked her hair in a lilac scarf. The eatery felt restrictive and so we decided to go to my home. The walk into the serenity of the GRA where I lived was uneventful. Omolabake kept looking at the grand houses that lined the roads. "This is amazing," she stuttered. I smiled. We arrived at my house and I opened the gate for her. She stepped into compound and sized up the duplex. "Only the rich ones like you can afford to stay here," she said. I looked at her and smiled. "I wish I was rich," I answered. We spent most of the afternoon sharing our experiences and eating. After five hours, she said that she had had so much fun but it was time to go back home. As we stepped out of the compound into the GRA, we met girls dressed in Barbie tops and pleated mini-skirts cat-walking in their clogs, speaking English through their noses. When they spotted us, they slowed their pace. As we drew nearer to them, they stared hard. Quickly, I grabbed Omolabake’s hand; her palms were sweaty and she was stiff. She wobbled as she watched the girls spit and overheard them discuss her in unwelcoming adjectives. She held my hand firmly. I saw it all and once again, I went numb.
Two weeks passed and we did not hear from each other but secretly growing through the silence was a fondness. Two weeks of staying apart felt like two years. I had missed sitting in front of her and stealing glances at her bright sparkling eyes. I missed the feeling of our skin when we held hands. I missed our talks. I missed Omolabake. I took some days to think of some of the things we had shared in the six weeks we had known each other. We had always tried not to talk about the things we felt for each other. Love was a forbidden topic for fear it would suck us in.
At the end of the second week of the silence, I invited Omolabake for lunch; just lunch. She was about to leave my house when the clouds changed and a gusty wind blew with all its fury. Omolabake was still contemplating whether or not to leave when it began to pour. She adjusted her scarf: a cheap, blue chiffon strip that she wound delicately over her hair. She stood by the windows. "Mother doesn't like it when we are not indoors when it rains," she said almost absent-mindedly. "Why?" “It's not a great story,” she replied with a streak of defiance in her voice. I nudged her: "So, go right ahead and spill it!” She sighed and began. “I was born on a rainy day. News reached my father at the radio station where he worked, about his wife's delivery. They said the sun shone high in the sky as the rain fell and flooded everywhere. That flood swept my father far away from home. His body was found in a stream down the road. Because my father died without setting his eyes on me, his people believed they ought to bequest to me something to always remind them of him. They wanted my mother to see me and always remember what she lost." She loosened her scarf slowly. “Mother said it was barely ten days after I was born that they came for me and took me away. She was deep in the thickness of grief; she said she couldn't put her thoughts together nor air her views. Widowhood had reduced her to chattel, no longer a wife. She said they came for me and took me away. They returned me with the marks all over my face. They were the same marks that had been on my father's face." Omolabake looked away from the window; I could see tears streaming down her face. I looked at her, a fountain of pity welling inside of me. “They ruined me,” she moaned bitterly as she clutched the curtain, trembling. I watched, with a heavy heart...I felt a jarring pain. I had never mastered the art of consoling people. I watched as she fell to her knees, tearing up in anguish. I rushed to pull her up: she fell like a flatfish: boneless and light. Quickly, she pulled herself together. She got her bag and walked right into the downpour. The grey sky bellowed. I dashed after her and grabbed her, rain pouring on us. Right in her eyes was the truth; a lifetime of impossible wishes...
She called me once she got home. She didn’t say much. "We will talk better when we see again," she said. I conceded. Our next meeting was at my place and this time, she was a different kind of free. I stared in awe of her beauty as she loosened her scarf. Her hairdo was a traditional braid woven into the shape of a butterfly. In between the rows of braids shone her light, well-oiled scalp. I smiled and she smiled too. I drew close to her, close enough to hear her breathe. I raised her chin delicately; she looked away from me. "You're beautiful," I said. She seemed uncomfortable. She took my hands gently off her chin and clasped them in hers. Everything around us fell silent; only the hum of the fridge in a corner of the room persisted. I asked: "But you know I love you, Omolabake. Don't you?" She nodded but did not say a word. She looked down, and then put her head against my chest, muttering: "I love you, Olamide...but…” I killed the sentence with a kiss before it was completed. It barely lasted a minute but it changed everything. On the night of the kiss, she sent me a message: "I asked God to give me just one moment that would steal my breath away... He gave me a man who made me barely breathe. He gave me you."
Omolabake and I are getting along quite well. It has not been easy but every step of the way has been worth it. It will be six months in a few days’ time that we began to date. She's set to do her exams and gain admittance for Medicine. We've been all over the city together...we have endured the harsh words of concerned friends and we've laughed at the hard stares from strangers, no matter what they contort their faces into.
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