Mother’s Day Special #3

*Andrea

I was born in the later 70s in the back of a towing truck. My parents had snuck off late in the night in my Grandpa’s Chevy. They were both seventeen and believed they were madly in love. Even after I was conceived, they still believed they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. They were banned from seeing each other, which was laughable considering she was already pregnant. And so, that dark rainy night they were going to run away together to San Antonio. San Antonio was their choice because my Dad’s older brother was living there. Anyway, as they made their way in his father’s stolen vehicle…I decided it was time. In panic,Dad skidded of the road and I ended up being born at the back of the tow truck that was towing their vehicle to the garage.

I heard when both sets of grandparents saw me for the first time in the hospital, all ill feelings previously that soured their relations gave way. My mother was no longer the little whore who threw herself at my father and my father was no longer the little bastard that defiled my mother. My parents relationship continued to college, but, by the time they both hit their early twenties, they had outgrown each other. He wanted to go on to medical school….. she wanted to travel to Sub-Saharan Africa to teach English Language. They had me in common but that’s all that remained of their teenage indiscretion.

I was raised by both sets of grandparents. I did not grow up with hangups that came along with having teenage parents. I grew up seeing my parents more like older siblings, I mean, they were barely children themselves when they had me. We all grew together. My grandmothers were a force to be reckoned with. I was completely home-schooled till I was thirteen by my maternal grandmother and spent my weekends with my paternal grandparents. My birthdays were always a bit of a carnival in our town. My grandmothers always showed up in my high school with cookies for my teachers and class mates. I was the only one who felt the flame of embarrassment. They didn’t care.

At my high school prom, my parents and grandparents ferried my date and I in convoy to the dance. I thought I was going to die. They didn’t care. When I started dating, I would sneak around to avoid the barrage of questions. Our relationships were not without its tense moments, but, I knew I was loved spectacularly. When I broke up with my first boyfriend and thought the world was at the end, my two grandmas whipped my tears and took me shopping. Many years later, I found out they both slashed my ex’s tires that night after I had fallen asleep. They were feisty, fun and didn’t hesitate to test my butt when I stepped out of line.

When I decided to take a year off college to go on tour with my band, they encouraged me even though they were uncomfortable with the thought of a group of teenagers living rough for a year. They believed in me and that checked me. I only lasted six months before I ran back home into their waiting arms…and back to school.

I like to believe their love and investments in my life has made me a better person. I am extremely generous with my time when it comes to my family. I will drop anything and everything to be at their side, no matter what.

From time to time though, I wonder what would have happened if my parents had made it to San Antonio.

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Mother’s Day Special #2

*Afeni

My mother’s first marriage was contracted when she was in her teens. I don’t know her exact age at the time. Back then, there were no voices for the girl-child. There were no social programs advocating for equality of the sexes. It was Africa in the forties. Where genital mutilation of the girl child was done in the cusp of her teens, or at birth…depending on your cultural leanings. My mother’s husband was a boy in a man’s body. He was raised to expect to be attended to by his wife. She was not to have a voice, a possession…an appendage. She had three children in quick successions; kept home and farmed his plot…a gift from his father as he attained ‘manhood’. I don’t know exactly when she decided she wanted to leave him. Her days were hard. The narrative, however, was not peculiar to her. She was surrounded by women who were doing the same thing.Her mother lived the same life, spurned forth nine children, farmed her fathers plot with her children while still fanning the flames of his ego. So, when she decided she wanted more from her existence, you can imagine the machinery that was unleashed to put her in her place.

She told me, she would have stayed married to her first husband if he allowed their children to have an education. The produce from the farm, she sold herself. She saw the economic empowerment she was giving a man who pissed it down the drain without investing in his seeds. Now, even though she could not read or write, she desired it for her children. She desired her son to do more than his father. She wanted her son’s perspectives not limited by the darkness of a lack of understanding and she desired for her daughters to have a future where they would not have to be sold into slavery on the platter of marriage. She knew better than to discuss her plans with her mother, or relatives for that matter. During the course of her farming his plots and selling the proceeds, she was able to amass a significant amount of money she used to liberate herself. She filed for a divorce in the traditional courts of their time. Did I mention she was the first woman to ever do such a thing in her village at that time? She did not care. I think it’s when a woman gets to a place where she stops concerning herself about what societal expectations are, what will people say, blah blah and blah will she truly be liberated. No one will liberate you. You must liberate yourself.

Her family ostracized her. Her mother was convinced her liberation was not self sustaining, after all, she had no money. Eye, which was what I called my mother was able to get a plot through a male cousin. Back then, she couldn’t even procure property on her own because she was a woman. She was hard working and her products were excellent. She enrolled my three older siblings in school and continued her trade. Now, older and wiser she knew whoever she decided to marry must be a man who would enrich her, not demean her progress. It took a a bit but he did come along. My father was an unusual man. He was confident. He didn’t pay attention to the side talks their relationship brought. He had kissed his own share of frogs masquerading as princesses. I was their first child together. Their relationship was not without it’s trials but they loved each other. They were 100% committed to not only themselves but their children. She spared no expense when it came to our education. When I climbed the podium on my graduation from college, she was besides herself in excitement.

When my oldest sister became a victim of domestic abuse, my mother was the first to encourage her to leave her marriage. She always advocates for strength in women.

It takes a strong man to marry a strong woman. It takes a wise man to recognize wisdom in his woman. She lived an exemplary life.

 

Mother’s Day Special

During this special weekend, I will be sharing a few stories. I have a few friends who have shared their stories with me. My friends and I have a lot in common, most importantly, we all had spectacular relationships with our respective mothers.

                                                                                 * Peter

I was born into a big family. The last of eight children. I have very little recollection of my father. He never came back from Vietnam. My maternal grandmother was our matriarch. For a woman who stood barely four feet five inches tall, she commanded such awe and respect. My mother with the assistance of her mother raised five daughters and three sons. She was a school teacher and her finances were spread thin catering for our household. We didn’t have much material wise but our home was awash with love. I excelled in athletics, especially in wrestling and was able to clinch a full scholarship to college. My mother was ecstatic. My two older brothers had both joined the army-our ‘mothers’ were not happy with their choices. My sisters had gone on to college and were all experiencing great things in their chosen careers. I had dabbled into the wrong company in high school and had made some wrong choices. Back in those days, in the late seventies-drugs had become a common feature in the social circuits. We were the generation sprung in the shadow of Woodstock. There was so much decadence…so much indulgence.

With my choosing to go to college, I had effectually turned my back on all the negative influences my mother worried had the potential to destroy my future. My choice was a small liberal arts college that had a vibrant African American community. I took long walks, wrote long letters to my grandma and mama. I spent my days fully engaged in my academics and athletics. My mother was my compass and I kept my eyes fully fixed on the prize. I left school within record time and was able to secure an appointment as a teacher in an elementary school. My feet were firmly planted in the direction of my beloved compass! I moved back home into my old room-across the corridor from Mama’s bedroom. I was enjoying the warmth of my mother and grandma’s constant love. Mama had retired but was a part time volunteer in the high school she had spent thirty five years of her forty years of public service. Many of her students had gone on to do great things, in fact, the current principal at my return was one of them.

Two years into my return home, my mother fell ill. In hindsight, I felt a nagging heaviness I could not shake. The constant hospital stays, the tests and the shadow that fell upon Mama’s face were a constant reminder a storm was gathering. My siblings and I kept a roaster. We all did our part: constantly encouraging, echoing bible scriptures our mother had taught us as children. My grandma seemed to shrink within herself…almost like she was fading away. I remember I woke up one night and found my Grandma sitting alone in the kitchen, staring into an empty tea cup. I pulled up a chair and sat beside her. My mother had undergone a procedure the day before, the prognosis wasn’t good. “I will not bury your mother”. She spoke in a raspy whisper, I almost didn’t hear. She died a week later, in her sleep. Grandma’s death crushed us but in light of Mama’s health we couldn’t fall apart.

My mother passed exactly a month after the surgery. I don’t think there are exact words to describe my life after my compass was broken. I took a couple of months off work. I remember the wake, the burial and weeks after that. I spent my days in my bedroom, blinds closed and completely turned my back on the world. My brothers went back to their posts, ,my sisters all lived out of state. We all grieved for our loss but in retrospect I think my loss was the most devastating. My brothers had their commissions, my sisters apart from their chosen carriers had spouses and children. I was the only one whose family, whose center had been completely obliterated. Remember the choices I had turned my back on when I said yes to college? Well, I fell head first down that dark hole. I was in so much pain, I snorted everything that took the pain away, even though they were temporary fixes. It seemed I stumbled into a dark room and some how, couldn’t find the door. Teaching during the day, shooting up or snorting cocaine at night.

I can’t remember exactly when it dawned on me, I was going to die. If I continued to make the wrong choices, these choices my Mama prayed against. These choices I promised my Grandma I would never make-I would eventually die. Alone. I couldn’t remember when last I slept properly in three years. I had lost almost forty pounds. And so, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and enrolled in a rehabilitation program. Failing was not an option for me. I went cold turkey. My body was racked in so much pain, my head felt like it was going to explode. My nights were plagued with dreams. I would find myself running down a dark corridor, ahead of me I could make out the familiar posture of my Grandma. And even though, I was running I never caught up with her. I would find myself getting tired and would slowly come to a stop. At times, I would hear my Mama’s voice calling from far away and would wake up drenched in sweat.

When I came out of rehab, I moved to another town and went back to school. My siblings and I sold the house and I was able to have a soft landing from my share of the proceeds. I eventually went back to teaching after a stint in the public relations industry. I found my compass again, it was etched in my heart. Though I went through fire, I came out singed but not destroyed. My Mother and Grandma were my center, my voice of reason, my compass. It’s been over twenty years and from time to time I still catch myself feeling deep sorrow. I don’t think one ever fully recovers from some losses.

Ageing bladder

I had spent the first two hours of my morning deeply engrossed in my task at-hand. So much so, that I chose to ignore my bladder as it swelled up and pushed against the elastic of my undergarment. I decided to take a short bathroom break and absentmindedly slipped my mobile phone into the back pocket of my trousers. On my feet, the contents of my bladder made me move quickly into the female restroom. Now, one of the things that fill me with nostalgia about my younger days was my ability to sit through two hours of class without emptying the contents of my bladder. In fact, I could go partying all night, go home, hit the sack before my metabolism reminded me-to empty its contents. Fast forward twenty years, three children all ranging in size from eight to ten pounds at birth and the attendant pressures those deliveries have on my reproductive system….my bladder, the worst hit.

Now, I am one of the lucky ones. I have not had to undergo reconstructive surgeries as a result of those aforementioned pressures. Childbirth does come with its attendant challenges. (see My muffin top)I have no leakages when I sneeze, a handful of greys, a couple of wrinkles…and of course my inability to sit for longer spells without emptying the contents of that ‘bag’-I think I am ageing quite well…. thank you very much. So. Back to my story. First stall of the restroom-occupied; I made a mad rush to the next while doing that familiar dance , shifting from one foot to the other, while straining and willing the contents of my bladder from seeping…well, you get the drift. As I release a small sigh of relief, I hear a loud clank and watch horrified as my phone sinks to the bottom of the commode.

 

He approached the vision of poise ahead of him. She was dressed in a beautiful flowery dress…all colors of spring. As he approached, her pretty face contorted into a nasty frown. I guess she thought he wanted her number. He inched closer to whisper in her ear.
She raised her voice several decibels above what was acceptable and drew the attention of many onlookers.
‘What do you want?!’
Embarrassed, he screamed back: ‘I just wanted to let you know, your dress is tucked in your panties!’
I watched her free fall with a smirk from my table.

Fela Kuti

I must have checked my wrist watch half a dozen times over the course of the last ten minutes; willing time to fly faster. How I wished I could miraculously teleport myself from Chicago to Maryland, skip the almost two hours flight in-between. I sat at the departure lounge at O’hare and willed my mind to be steady and busied myself on the phone: returning emails, reading interesting anecdotes and generally snooping on other people’s timeline on Facebook. I felt him sit beside me, but apart from taking a sneak peek at his glossy loafers I returned my attention to my phone.

My phone rang, it was my spouse. We spoke for a couple of minutes in Yoruba. When I was done, I heard him clear his throat to get my attention.I looked up. His complexion the palette of raisins- a deep mahogany brown. He was clean shaven, and just a couple of inches taller than yours truly. His teeth a bright white that would have cost a tidy sum from his dentist. His arms were nicely toned. Now, please don’t judge me for taking into details the features of another man; being happily married does not make me blind. ‘Lookery’ is not a sin. Anyway, he heard me speaking the language of my birth and turns out his mother is Yoruba, his dad from the West Indies. Mohamid he said his name was. As luck would have it, he was on the same plane and yes, seat was next to mine. I was anxious about traveling by air, if I could make my trip by train I would have. Unfortunately, I had only two days to spend with my friend and if I had taken the option of the train-it would have been to get to her home and just turn around and leave.

Our flight was for yet another hour. He told me about himself. He was twenty nine. Unmarried. The first of two children. His parents were retired and living a life of leisure in the Bahamas. His younger brother was in the army. He had served two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. That would explain the nicely toned physique. He has never visited Africa but was a lover of Afro beat music, pioneered by Fela Kuti. He asked me so many questions about Fela and his eyes lit up like diamonds when I told him I once saw him while riding shot gun with a friend back in the early nineties. I wasn’t a fan but have grown to find the African beats synonymous with his music bearable having pledged my undying love to a man who loved his music. He was standing on the balcony, wearing a pair of dark colored briefs only. His gaunt torso bare, his hair unruly and pinched between his fore finger and his thumb was the thickest joint I had ever seen. He was surrounded by a mob of people both at the balcony and the ground floor. And the air was rent with constant chants of ‘Abami eda’. And with that little story, my status before him was quickly upgraded.

I resisted the urge to lie to him; to tell him I had visited the Shrine and had seen Fela close up,or that, I had smelt the air all dredged up with the burnt musk of weed. No, that was not my style. I told him the truth. I had never visited the Shrine. Never seen him close up and up until I met my spouse who has an eclectic taste in music which included Fela, I had never paid much attention to the musical maestro. I did,however, by default had found him engaging as I grew older. His lyrics rings true even till now, sadly. The political system of Nigeria is worse now than over thirty years ago when he coined the lyrics of I.T.T(International Thief Thief). And I have found, depending on whether I have had a shot of Irish cream or not after my dinner, the loud and brassy beats of Egypt 80 actually sound melodious and more than tolerable.

As the plane taxied and gained momentum, I felt bile rise to my mouth from my stomach.I tasted the residue of my lunch:eba and ogbono soup at the back of my throat. I gagged, thinking I would vomit. He immediately noticed and gestured for the flight attendant’s attention. When she was slow in responding, he gently guided my head between my knees and rubbed between my shoulders. Even in that uncomfortable few minutes, I was mentally going through my Rolodex. This one would make a good husband for a single friend. Kind, attentive and good looking-which of course, we all look for. The third of the three by no means the most important but lets be honest, packaging sells the worst product; at least for the first try. When my stomach settled and I fell into a drug induced slumber, I felt the sand man visit with the back ground lyrics of Fela’s Lady.

I asked Mohamid if he had any plans to settle down and start a family. He responded the affirmative. He said he hasn’t been lucky in that segment of his life. I mentally did another check. I will definitely be acting the match maker very soon.

 

Hollowed out: Addiction.

A beautiful specimen of a man was how I would define Ayo*, not his real name. We both attended the same university. I had recently transferred from another university. He was taking two laboratory courses in my department. We were matched as lab. partners by virtue of our peculiar situation. I didn’t know most of the students in my class; he was from another department, two years ahead….just trying to get enough credits to graduate. He was funny, easy going and always managed to attract a lot of female attention. Tall, dark…a real eye candy, he always seemed to juggle more than one girlfriend, at a time. Our relationship was platonic. We frequented the same circuits, had common friends. I would later introduce him to his future spouse.

He went on to graduate and as was customary with his older siblings, went ahead to graduate school overseas. I lent a shoulder to his girlfriend when their relationship suffered the attendant strains that come along with long distant relationships. I encouraged her to date; actively kicking against the double standards that exists between men and women in dating. I knew Ayo would be actively dating and didn’t think it was fair she should be left holding the short end of the stick. He would call me on the phone from time to time, asking how I was faring…then once he said:” I hear you are the one encouraging my wife to cheat on me, Mobs.” To which I quickly retorted: Ol’boy it’s not over until it’s over. He laughed, albeit strained. He made it home a year before I got married. His first couple of months back were riddled with series of conflict between them. I initially gave the altercations off as the adjustments they were both going through with his recent return. They argued incessantly. Once after a particularly bad blow out, she came to see me. I had gone to bed early that evening and remember waking suddenly to find her sitting at the foot of my bed. Her eyes bright from unshed tears. He was always drinking. When he drank, he was different. He became aggressive and vulgar. I was in shock. The picture she painted did not correlate with the Ayo I knew. I thought back to our early days together. I remembered the slurred speech I chose to ignore. The way his eyes were constantly bloodshot during our laboratory classes, the way his car perpetually stank of alcohol. I saw the signs but chose not to read them. I felt ashamed.

When I confronted him, he refused to accept responsibility for his actions. He wasn’t an alcoholic, he laughed me to derision. I was overreacting just like she was. He was under pressure at work. She wasn’t understanding, she wasn’t supportive. He went on and on. Every body was to blame for his choices. My head spun. When I pressed him further, he grew angry. He said I was part of the problem, putting ideas in her head, encouraging her to do away with their relationship. Like a volcano, I erupted. Words like molten larva tumbled over themselves over black ashes. There was heat in my anger and destruction in its path.The beautiful tapestry, that was once our relationship began to unravel. I was too angry, he was too proud.

At my wedding, he gave me a hug. He whispered his apologies in my ear. I held his face between my palms. All was forgiven. My friend he stayed-warts and all. Against her better judgement, she went ahead and married him. I hoped, no prayed starting a home would cure the restlessness that drove him to drink. There seemed to be a brief period when they were happy, when he seemed to settle down somewhat. When his eyes were clear and not cloudy, his face was not slack from drink. Then it all went to hell. The more he drank, the more he broke the boundaries of their relationship. It was one misstep after the other. He would pick fights with her at the drop of the hat. He imagined ghosts in their relationship. He grew paranoid and increasingly aggressive. She suffered three miscarriages and became increasingly embittered and disillusioned. Family waded in, it didn’t help none. I tried to speak with him, he refused to listen.It was his marriage, not mine. He drew an invincible line in the sand.

Finally, at the end of their fifth year of marriage, she left. She packed her bags and took a job transfer to Abuja. He was out of the country when she left. He came back to find their home deserted. She didn’t leave a note. He was devastated. When I saw him, I was shocked at what he had become. A shadow of his old self. He had lost weight, his trousers looked a size bigger, his suit was rumpled and he spotted a five o’clock shadow. Still, he blamed everyone but himself. He blamed his job. He blamed his family. He blamed his wife. He never once accepted responsibility for his choices. And so, that day, I knew there was no redemption without his coming to a place of acceptance of what he had become. I asked him at what point would he accept responsibility? “At what point Ayo, will you look yourself in the mirror and take ownership of your choices?’ He looked away and mumbled under his breath about how he knew I would always take sides with his wife. He struggled to get to his feet and swooned. I couldn’t believe he was drunk already. It wasn’t even yet noon!

She divorced him, moved again to South Africa and remarried. She started a family. Our relationship tanked, a casualty of her marriage to my friend. I guess she felt, she couldn’t move on- if she stayed friends with me.

The years of alcohol abuse eventually took its toll. He fell gravely ill. His family was distraught. I prayed. Every time my phone rang my heart would skip a beat. I wore my fear like a cloak. I had lost my Mum a few years earlier…..I couldn’t imagine loosing my friend, too. He eventually succumbed to his ailment. The day I got the text, his sister had tried to call me several times that morning and as usual, I had refused to answer-a premonition, I guess. I got in my car and drove to the Faculty of Science of the University of Lagos. I sat on our favorite bench. I cried till I was hoarse. “How did we get here, Ayo?” I replayed different sequences in my mind, each ending with him rising from the horizon…., not dead, forever silenced.

How do you move on from the death of a friend that sticks close like a brother?I don’t

know. I purposed to live for him, for all my loved ones who shared a common dream, a common path-way. From time to time, when my tears threaten; I deliberately focus on the good times, my fond memories of my friend. When he was whole, not hollowed out by his addiction. I prefer to remember him the way he was when I was strangely ensconced from his demons: tall, dark, witty and happy…. bent over the work bench in the Biology Laboratory while we swapped anecdotes and studied our samples.

Saturday mornings.

I lay on my back, my right arm casually flung over my eyes, my duvet pulled up to my chin. I spread my limbs carelessly-enjoying the coolness of the sheets beneath me; listening to the unobtrusive sounds that assail my thoughts. I find, I can see without opening my eyes, my ears serve in all I need to know of whats going on around me.

My spouse is in the living room. He is on the phone, his sing song voice going up and down. I try to guess who he is speaking to. The door to our boudoir is closed and so his voice is muffled. We made a pact a while back to make as little noise as possible on Saturday mornings. Whoever gets up first leaves the other in silent tranquility. “Make your own breakfast, watch television, talk on your phone, read a book…whatever you do, do it elsewhere-and quietly”. With children who have have gotten to the age where they are relatively independent; it is a doable arrangement. There was a time that was not possible. When our mornings were disrupted by toddlers tumbling into our bed; when our schedules were made to par with theirs; when our lives was  ‘beautiful chaos’. Back when, we stumbled out of bed in the mornings, both blurry eyed, bumping into each other on the corridor – trying to find the bathroom while half awake; reacting to the inbuilt alarms in our heads to get- a- move- on.

Now, I can lay in bed and play a game of ‘who can that be’. With my eyes closed, I try to guess the originator of each sound I hear coming from different parts of our home. I hear the bunk bed creak in the children’s room. I hear the familiar heavy thumping of Long Legs as he leaves their room and goes to the bathroom. I hear the muffled exchange between father and son. I drift back into sleep and dream. Its a weekend and I am sleeping on my single bed in the room I share with my two sisters. I can’t tell how old I am exactly but I am wearing an old night shirt I wore in my college days. My hair is in abject disarray and my sisters are in various stages of of undress. We are talking excitedly, a rush of words I can’t remember-the dream, a blast of colors and beautiful music. The dream, a quiet reminder of the past. When we all lived together in one unit, long before we all ventured out as adults; before we all got married and started our respective families; back when….I saw life in black and white and not shades of grey. The days, my father would sit in his study, carefully bent over his many manuscripts. His bifocals perched on the edge of his nose, pen in hand-poised to write. My brother on his computer. My mother pottering about in her bedroom, while she shared an anecdote or two.

I awake again, my eyes- I keep closed and resume playing the game. I hear Chunky ask for cereal. I hear the door to my room venture open in creaks. I feel an added weight on my bed; a pressed kiss on my lips and know its Chunky without opening my eyes. He slips away, as quickly as he came in. A fourth voice, softer then the men’s joins the mix. She asks their Dad whether he wants to join her in eating oats. At that time, I decide to open my eyes.

Kindness

I ran across the busy road. Some bearded fellow had eventually been kind enough to wave me across. I was on a short break and I badly needed a muffin and some tea. I had just resumed work after a year long hiatus. It was January, which in Chicago meant it was very cold. I had erroneously anticipated a spike in temperature and so, left my office without my scalf, hat and gloves. By the time I got to the coffee shop, I was freezing. I stuttered out my order, rubbing my arms and shifting from one foot to the other, blowing at my frozen fingers, willing some warmth back into my body. The associate taking my order, Theresa was a short, middle aged woman with a sunny disposition. Cold,eh? I nodded the affirmative. She wrapped my muffin carefully while making small talk, I absent mindedly reached in my jacket for my purse….I had left it on my desk! My heart fell to the bottom of my boots. I’m sorry. I stammered, embarrassed at the prospect of not having funds to pay for my breakfast. Realising my situation, she smiled and waved away my apologies.‘That’s OK love. It’s on me.’

That was five years ago. Her act of kindness towards me, a stranger then, continues to stoke the flame of hope in my heart. Hope, that each individual has the ability to be kind. Not bogus acts of kindness, well, those ones are good, too. But those nuggets of goodness we share on a daily basis: a smile, a kind word, an act of genetosity in paying for another’s meal without breaking the bank. It goes a long way.

Back to my story. From time to time, I still stop by her coffee shop. She still insists on giving me muffins and hot chocolate drinks without taking money. At times, she will give me two muffins for the price of one when I insist on paying. Always smiling, never a dull moment in her company.

Be nice, not just to people you know but strangers. An old friend of mine always says: Be kinder than necessary. Everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle and carrying some kind of burden, noone else can see.

When love dies.

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.