When I met Akeem*(not his real name), he was round faced, had a full head of hair, a thick middle and a disarming smile. I was a volunteer at a children’s hospital, he was a pediatrician. I volunteered once a week and my shift coincided with his. My hours were short and I had a family to return to. We became fast friends and he helped me navigate the large hospital, usually giving me pep talks on how to make my visits easier on his patients, many of which were patients in the ICU.
He was engaged to be married and fiercely looking forward to the date. He would ask me different questions about my African heritage: foods, spices, fashion, traditional hairstyles. Every visit was an inquisition. He was always reading about my culture, asking questions not limited to my country but the continent as a whole. He would practice speaking Yoruba and Ibo and send me texts in both languages. I brought him jollof rice, ofe ogbona, ofe nsala with pounded yam and eba. I also showed him how to roll boluses of eba and pounded yam with soup without making a mess. At his behest, I brought him several recipes of the meals he had sampled for him to try. He would return the follow week with a prepared sample of the recipe of the previous week. His fiance perfected the art of making jollof rice. He would show me several snap shots of his wife to be. She was a dark head, with a beautiful smile, several inches shorter than my friend. I never met her but felt I knew her, through him, if that made sense.
It amused me how much unsolicited information he volunteered about his relationship, I guess my orientation made me more close mouthed but one thing was certain; he was completely smitten. He would ask me for ideas on how to surprise her. I was always amused by the enthusiasm by which he approached their relationship. Despite being together for six years, he still displayed a giddiness associated with the newness of a budding relationship.
I missed their wedding due to a clash of obligations. He returned from his honeymoon a month later with a healthy tan and a brighter smile. He brought along his wedding album and several snap shots of his honeymoon. He told me of the different foods he sampled, the change in weather (they honeymooned in Hawaii) and how much he missed his patients. They seemed happy, at least he was. Two years later, I had stopped volunteering but he remained a feature in my life. We had common interests. In addition to being my friend, he had become a good friend to my spouse. I did notice he started to loose weight. He had always struggled with his weight and I was amazed at how the weight seemed to slip off him that last year. He also seemed distant, his smile… more forced. Eventually, after making excuses for his wife for the umpteenth on her inability to join us at dinner; he tells us he is getting a divorce. I was in shock.
Many questions raced through my mind but I refused to ask. He told me there was a betrayal of trust and he could not continue in the relationship. His voice shook and he appeared broken. I patted his hand and kept mute. Long after he left, my mind was in a maze. How does one loose such an intense love for another? What kind of betrayal could not be forgiven? I resisted my natural tendency to call him, to bother him till he was more forth coming. I decided to pray for him; for both of them….hoping they would find the light of forgiveness in the tunnel of pain and anguish that had encased their marriage.
They did get divorced. He was incommunicado for several months. He seemed to fall off the radar. I stopped texting and continued to pray and hope they were both okay. And just as easily as he vanished, he reappeared. He had lost several pounds, his middle had disappeared and I saw glimpses of my old Akeem. He still refuses to talk about what happened in his marriage but that’s okay. For someone who was so forthcoming in the past, he has become as close mouthed as me.