IF LOVE WERE PERILOUS
His room was a little one but because I had an unquestionable prerogative to visit him at any time, I didn’t mind. Our courtship had lasted for over three years yet he never mentioned marriage, I refused to mind. My family liked him even if they tagged him unfortunate. I remained defiant. I felt like I knew him more than I knew my own family and it felt right. Every day, I lock my fingers in prayers, believing that things will fall into place some day and he will marry me. He will take me to his own people, his own home and watch me bring forth lives for him.
My mother, my younger brother and I lived in a bungalow barely finished by my father before his demise. After my father’s burial, my mother used her share of the money derived from his burial and patched the house enough for us to move in. We decided to evacuate the main building for the first wife of my father and her seven children. My mother was a second wife.
A small bag-making company that my mother managed while my father was still breathing was the only asset we got. It was called Nnochi Limited. The company strived gradually but boomed to an extent when I completed my University education one year later. I employed the few marketing ideas I learnt while studying Office and Information in school to plug into the bag market.
My younger brother Timon refused to be admitted in the University, he loved business more than anything and he was smart too. As a family, we worked hard together.
Tega knew all these things, he consoled me selflessly when my father died. He was such a rare head but my father didn’t like him till his death. Few times, I worried my head on that issue but I moved on with time. It was in the University that I met Tega, he was from a neighbouring community and we spoke almost the same dialect. His head was constantly shaved, his muscular chest was not hidden and he had a lower lip a little bit red like the palm kernels we ate in the village. Though I haven’t tasted it, I believed it will also be as delicious as the palm kernel juice especially when mixed with salt. We were so into each other yet we stayed chaste.
Tega was very hardworking and calm. He shared the same love for native attires with me. Often, I caught him starring at my wool-woven hair, sometimes held up high and sometimes locked with cowries. He was an artistic soul, his hands often painting and colouring things that I have not even imagined. He studied Accountancy but his love for painting was overpowering. For all I knew of him, his uncle grudgingly saw him through school. He didn’t have any immediate family. His parents and his four brothers died one after the other mysteriously. He was alone and pained when I met him in school and I was glad to have helped several times despite my father’s warning. Immediately he graduated one session before me, his uncle turned his back on him totally. After so many struggles, he could not get a job or maybe jobs couldn’t get him. No one seemed to appreciate his paintings. He felt very unlucky. I pleaded with him to come and join Nnochi Limited but he refused, I realized his ego got in the way. We survived. I was feeding him.
It was the year 2002. Our bag company kept doing well, Tega and I still flocked together but I felt a different kind of air blow across my face that January. Like a grown and ripe woman, I desired a man, I wanted a family. One evening, I knocked at Tega’s door. He opened. He was reading a book earlier. We sat together, I stared at him deeply and handed him a box. He quickly opened it and saw a ring, his eyes protruded.
“What is this Tonia?”
“It’s a wedding ring’ I answered, kneeling beside him. “Please propose to me, say you will marry me. Please my love.”
His eyes became watery, “Tonia do you want to leave me for another man?”
“Then please get up. Let us talk about this. I have to look for my own money, get a ring and propose to you not you…it’s not your duty.’
I still refused to get up.
“Please stop yourself from starting this fire Tonia, get up! You do everything for me, everything and now you bought a ring? How?”
I became furious; I felt he was being inconsiderate and selfish. I wasn’t complaining at all but he was complaining. I stumped out of his house despite his voice calling out my name. That was the very first remarkable anger scene I had with him. Anger raided my heart yet I didn’t confide in my mother. I realized how shameful I had acted. I was desperate of a title or something. ‘T weds T’ or ‘Tsquare’ or simply Tonia weds Tman or our native names, Ogadi weds Chidi. All those imaginative constructions clouded my head. Shortly, we settled the squabble silently that we didn’t know when we started laughing again. Although I twisted my neck to one side like they do in films for him to at least kiss me but he did not. I was not sure he even noticed. I started thinking that he did not notice many other things.
Hatred began. We easily offended each other. He seemed to want something very different that I didn’t even want. By the end of October, we have known each other even better through fighting and biting. Everything was forming into real paintwork like his own. Then, he came to my home one day and told me about this idea; he wanted me to lend him some money, a whoopee sum of money to help him paint as much as he can so that he can exhibit them in a Trade Fair that will take place in the city by December. He made his plans so clear that I loved it. I felt like that was our breakthrough. He was chatting with my brother Timon downstairs when I called him into my room and gave him an envelope containing 200 thousand naira the next day. He thanked me so dearly and we embraced for long. Still he didn’t kiss me.
Fearfully, I told my mother when she got home but she was mad at me, very mad at me. Heaven and hell almost let loose. Timon stood by the corner moping at me like I was a mistake. My mother instantly regretted trusting our funds into my care. The money he asked was exactly the amount left for our home after my mother just purchased our first car. I couldn’t fathom why life is so tricky. Though we expected good returns from the products we unleashed in the market, we had to hold on to some money in case of anything. 200 thousand naira was too much yet I did not think too much before handing it to him. I didn’t want to be the reason he did not make it.
To our greatest surprise, he did not make it! I was at the Trade Fare that day, standing in a shield with him hoping on people to buy our paintings. The only man who spoke to us priced a conspicuous painting of a rose flower two thousand naira. At that point I thought about his family, if they were cursed or if my father cursed him on his last breath. Beautiful paintings that no one desired even in a festive period? It appeared very awkward to witness that painful moment with him. I wish I could buy them from him and make him smile. Tega stood there, looking at his products and the sun. He was even strong enough to move them back into the car and smiled all through while I drove him silently to his poor room. He stopped me from walking into the room with him. Maybe he understood me. My legs were heavy and I was forcing them to move so that the world will know that we both stood together. Not one of his works was sold throughout the Trade Fair. I wept. I prayed, I yelled in my bathroom. I was trying to get rid of doubts, trying to conquer my fears. I apologized to my family on behalf of what happened and to make it lighter on them I took a job in my mother’s classmate’s company as an Assistant in the Marketing Department. My plan was to pay back the money quickly. It hurt me deeply to see life favouring me more than my darling Tega.
The few times I met with him afterwards, he could not relate peacefully with me. I noticed his lost eyes and his bitter soul. At a time, he was so brutal that he opened his mouth one night and told me two burning words right at his door, “Get out!”
He didn't want me around anymore, by his actions I figured he felt inferior and insecure. I tried to bring him back to life but he wouldn’t respond. I threw my manners away and offered him my body but he pushed me away as though I was a very salty food. Then a day came, a very unfortunate day. It was like Judgement Day, seemed like. But it was. I was sure it was. Tega raised his hand on me but my brother came to my rescue.
"Get into the Car" He panicked after an argument with Tega.
I said no.
He fondled with me but I rebuffed him with my strength.
"I can see you are already running mad before we get to the hospital"
My brother began to infuriate me.
"Tonia why are you so blind? Tega slapped you!"
"But it didn't land"
"Can you even hear yourself? It didn't land. Like you are a baby?"
"I am your elder sister Timon"
"So? That's why you have to end your life with someone who doesn't even care if you sleep well? You need to visit the Doctor."
"Timon. Stop it. Money is not everything"
"But care is everything. He doesn't even make you smile for half a second anymore. That guy is a wreck."
That was the height of it. I slammed back.
"Stop! He is human. You just don't know him! You all don't know him and I'm not going to see any Doctor or Counsellor or whatever. I'm fine and the least of what I need right now is any iota of disrespect from you."
Once I arrived home with Timon, I demanded to be alone in my room.
As I lay in the smallest part of my bed quietly, I heard the hard sound of the gate. Timon had angrily shut the gate and I knew he will be sitting there in the living room with my Mom waiting for when I will reappear.
I have been the ugly one at home. But I wasn't ugly. Something made me ugly. I didn’t still blame Tega. All my anger was directed towards life.
I seemed to have been possessed by an inferior spirit. The spirit of sadness that brings out nothing but ugliness.
Timon was right. Now he hates me. I thought to myself.
"He really does"
I couldn't just say we have broken up. I didn't know what to make out of it but I knew he was hurting me with his nonchalant attitude towards everything we had. It was obvious that I was drained, my small family discouraged me from seeing him again.
Even time could not make me forget him. He was like someone I could not live without. Everyday I misplace some of the air I breathe. Tega was my best friend.
Everything on Earth appeared in sevens to me. My visions were totally blurred. Love felt like the last poison I will ever take on earth. Just in my lifeless moment, I recalled the soothing voice of my Mum, it revived me.
"Hhmmm" I grumbled and wept for a while then I found one of my bubble gums. I chewed it mercilessly and carelessly before I made my way to the shower. The cold water helped me too and after a long bath I ran downstairs quietly. I smiled and giggled at the same time to my Mother and Timon. I have been so lost for such a long while. I have been a gone girl, lost in Tega's world trying to fix things that are not meant to be fixed.
They smiled too. Timon was the happiest because we only had each other. He was my bosom friend. Even the kitchen sensed all the smiles I gave. I resumed singing while making dinner for everyone and tomorrow I must go to work in a different accord.
I became my own Hero.
At work, I had been such a goof even if I covered my pain securely.
Though everyone noticed the newest pretty-baby look I wore, they didn't still ask for once because I never told a thing.
My pride was totally damaged, I had to take my time to rebuild myself.
Rebuilding myself wasn't about hating on anyone, wasn't about being just there alone and cold looking for whom to blame. Instead I became nicer. I gave everyone at the office extra care and extra smile. Funny enough, I was still checking on Tega.
He had told me he was OK on phone several times. Yet I knew he wasn't. Ever since his spirit took a walk from mine, he never appeared happy. He wouldn't tell me what made it worst.
I called him after my shower one night. His voice on the other end was hard and frustrating, "I just hate this Life. I'm tired. I said I'm fine" he gnashed.
"It’s OK dear. Maybe you need some air. Go and take some outside, take your time and remember I'm always here. Be fine" I answered calmly and hung up. I hung up this time and to me, that was fair.
Few weeks later at work, something struck my boss as she walked into my office.
"Could that be you? Wow! That painting is so true" she made towards an elegant painting on my wall, caressing it.
"Was it here since....?"
"Yes." That was a lie, I hid it some time ago when Tega stopped being himself and to show how far I have gone into forgiveness, I unveiled the painting and hung it in a more visible angle.
"Very well, the person who made this must be more than good and loving. Meet me in my office please." She remarked and made to walk out.
"Or don't you think our branches deserve some art works and decors here and there, scattered beautifully all over" She turned and asked.
"Of course they do. We are Art itself Ma" I added professionally.
"OK then. We will also talk about that.” She finished and sashayed away.
That was strange. I could not move my feet, I began to divide, multiply and subtract all that was happening to my very existence that moment. Maybe I should hurt Tega for once and not mention his name in front of my boss. Maybe I should call another artist, and then tell Tega about an opportunity he missed because he hurt me. Maybe after telling him everything, I shall laugh at him scornfully and feel revenged.
Tega started painting few weeks later in the Company and other branches, it was more like a festival, we saw each other every day and he smiled at me at any given moment. It was like love refined. Our bond never ever left, it was only subdued. The miracle we prayed for finally surfaced. I recalled every of the problems and how life had cruelly led me through.
Later, I brought in a new idea of Tega adding a little artwork on our bags, some kind of African colourings especially to black handbags to make them look more beautiful and homely. His handiwork started booming and he felt blessed day by day. With time I understood that there is no such thing as true love, real love or divine love. Love does not need an adjective to qualify it, love is love. What colours it is forgiveness and sacrifice. Our relationship was there. Friendship was there. Kisses also came along till I even forgot I needed title. We further experienced a new kind of free. Sweet is being free.