Isi ji! How we hated that part of a yam tuber. But, whenever mommy cooked, that redundant part invariably found its way to the pot. Whenever I was to select yam pieces into my plate, I picked the “good” part. In slight indignation, Mommy would look at my plate and ask why I didn’t take some isi ji. You’re meant to distribute it; only one person can’t eat the head. How could you just take the fine part and leave the rest for us? Whenever she rambled on like that, I wanted to ask her, “Why cook something no one wants to eat?”
As I grew older, mommy insisted I add isi ji to the pot whenever I was to cook yam. You shouldn’t waste it, she’d say. I tried to reason with her that it didn’t make sense if we hated isi ji yet added it to the pot.
One day, I asked her, “Mommy, do you like eating yam head?”
She categorically stated, “I like it. If you go and visit some people cook it for them o.
“What if they don’t like it?” I asked. “No one here likes it.”
Looking at me with her head tilted upwards, nose flared, and mouth downturned, she retorted, “I have told you. Before they say you are wasting their yam.”
Sweep the frontage well so that it will be presentable if we have visitors.
Whenever I refused to go to for mass, “You don’t want to come to church? If they now ask after you what will I say?”
Don’t do it like that! If you now visit someone’s house they’ll think that…
Ha! My parents are obsessed with what people think about them. Maybe if they minded their business, they wouldn’t be bothered about what “they” would say. They wouldn’t be pretenders. They think everyone gossips as they do. Talk about projecting your vices.
Honestly, after my big fraud, I can wager they’ve dropped the habit as they have no moral justification to judge other people.
I did the worst thing they could ever imagine!
You see, amidst all this pretence; not working with what works for you because you are scared of what “they” would say, I turned out to be a rebel. I just didn’t care about what anyone thought of me and my choices. I didn’t allow “they” rule me. Who is “they”? “They” is you and I being judgemental. The society always judges that which it find absurd or not “righteous” enough. In my opinion, this is in a bid to validate our own holiness, our own righteousness. You need to understand this: caring about an irrelevant person’s opinion of you makes you a prisoner to their thoughts. You know, a woman that doesn’t seek validation is invincible. All that matters is that I am happy with my innocuous choice.
Choice. It’s not like I chose to be attracted to women. I didn’t choose to be a lesbian. How would I choose a lifestyle that isn’t beneficial to me in my society? It doesn’t make sense to want to ostracise yourself from people, does it?
Before Chisaraokwu, there were guys and everything about those relationships were contrived. To start with, we never connected. No click. Nothing! I’d just pretend that I enjoyed being with them. A woman can fake anything from a smile to an orgasm.
Heaven knows I faked everything with these men.
I met her during the training before I got my job. But, she was mean and cold towards me. I wrote her off as one of those annoying women that enjoyed bringing other women down. To make it worse, I had a crush on her. It’s like she knew I had something for her and she decided to hate me for it. Before her, I used to crush on other women but I didn’t dare acknowledge it.
Everything about her pulled me in. Her open-mindedness; her joie de vivre; her intellect- she is one of the smartest women I have ever met; her sensitivity; her warmth; her sophistication- she seems to have everything figured out. Whenever I imagined my dream man, I wanted these qualities.
Just that I found it all in another woman.
The first time I saw her, she was wearing a black skirt suit that accentuated her figure. It’s not like I haven’t seen women with long, nice, shapely legs. It happened that hers’ were… exquisite; like God’s own hands made it the day He was extremely pleased with the world. The 5” thick mass of afro that framed her head, and full, sensual lips together with her bronzed skin added a certain allure to her. I often wondered why she wasn’t an artist. With time, as I got to know her, she told me she got the job to “build her finances”. Eventually she’d be a film maker.
Chisaraokwu later told me she fancied me from the first time she saw me during the training but decided not to pursue anything with me. Actually, she deliberately avoided me. “It would have been dumb if we had anything only for us to be working in different states,” she explained.
After getting our posting letters, I didn’t see her. I asked one of her pals where she was but the guy gave me a vague reply. For all I cared, she might have asked him not to tell me anything. That was the confirmation I needed that she hated me.
Gradually, I pushed her to the back of my mind, as the Accounts department was always hectic. Honestly, I didn’t even know how the days flew by. Time takes wings and flies fast when you’re distracted by hard work.
You can’t imagine my surprise when I saw her at my branch about a month later. She managed to crack a smile at me. I almost yielded to the temptation to smile back at her. Then I remembered she was a bitch to me and looked away.
We don’t have a lunch break in my office per se. Nevertheless, everyone takes 30 minutes off at a point. As soon as it was 12:30, I left my seat to go to the fast food restaurant opposite the office. I was almost at the gate when I felt a vicelike grip on my upper arm. I was flummoxed. I knew I didn’t owe anyone anything for them to hold me that way. I turned and who did I see?
Yes, Marcus. My fiancé.
At the time, I was acting up around him. Everything he did got to me; ticked me off. When we are sated with our lovers, everything they do, including the way they breathe, irritates us. I felt guilty for feeling this way about him. I shouldn’t have been this way with him. He was nice and sweet to me but it just didn’t … click.
There was no chemistry.
It was just… there.
I wasn’t okay with my relationship being okay. I wanted more. I knew he loved me but I wanted him to want me. I needed him to need me. I don’t know if you get me. It’s like there was no passion in our relationship. What is life without passion?
He softened his grip when he saw I recognised him.
“Why are you here?” I bristled.
“I wanted to surprise you,” he smiled at me. “Let’s do lunch today.”
We sat at a table in the bubbly restaurant filled with my colleagues and I was almost launching into a million-word tirade about him visiting me at the office in a bid to surprise me when I saw him nod at someone standing behind me. What was going on? I didn’t need to turn around before seeing Chisaraokwu sit with us.
“Sorry,” she smiled as she pulled back the chair adjacent me and lowered herself to seat on it. “No space anywhere and I hoped you wouldn’t mind if I joined you two. I’m Chisaraokwu,” she introduced herself to us.
She had nerves!
“Marcus,” he responded stiffly. He reached for my palm across the table and held it possessively, “Tess, my wife-to-be,” he grinned at me. I stared at him in anger and I noticed his face had a certain look I couldn’t place. This was just how I wanted my day to go; sitting with two people I didn’t like at the time.
I didn’t care if Chisaraokwu was flirting with Marcus. She practically threw herself at him. It was quite disgusting. Appetite left and I informed them I was going back to the office. Nodding curtly at her, I pushed back my table to stand up. I squeezed his shoulder on my way to the door while telling him I’d call later.
He walked after me and met me at the restaurant’s door. “Hey, babe, you’re angry at me for something and don’t want to tell me.”
“I promise I’m fine. I’ve just been busy. We’ll talk later, right?”
Marcus, Silence, and I walked back to the office. In the car lot, I gestured that I’d call him later. Without waiting for a reply, I trotted into the building. When I loved him, I’d stand in the car lot and watch him drive away. He must have figured that there was something amiss.
As I sat in the office the rest of the afternoon, I was seeking answers to many questions in my head. The salient one was, “Why is Chisaraokwu here?” I could have wagered she didn’t even get the job. It was so annoying that although I claimed not to like her, convinced myself that I despised her, I was still drawn to her.
The next day, I met Chisaraokwu in the restaurant. I’d like to think she met me. It was bizarre that she acted like we were best of pals. I was used to a cold meanie. I discovered that contrary to her icy demeanour- more like a facade- Chisaraokwu is warm and attentive. Meeting this Chisaraokwu was disconcerting.
For the next one week, we rendezvoused at the restaurant. And we talked about everything. I learnt we shared similar interests- books, movies, ice cream, and especially Renaissance art. How many people are interested in Renaissance art?
It was more exciting that we took the same bus from CMS. I lived for those moments she’d squeeze my thighs while laughing at a joke or held my palm in hers’. Every time I alighted at Ojuelegba, I felt my heart break. I hated leaving her. Oh! She said she always loved watching me walk away from her to cross the road. “Watching you is a pain that I welcome. That way, I get to watch your hips swing as you sashay on these mean streets of Lagos.”
About Marcus… you can predict what happened with us. Chisaraokwu was air freshener and Marcus was a bad stench. How I felt guilty those weeks.
I felt guilty for not missing him.
I felt guilty for not calling him.
I felt guilty for ignoring his calls.
And when I deemed it okay to answer his calls, I hastily hung up saying I had to run off. There were times I had puny reasons not to talk with him. Somehow, he was… cool with the new status quo. Once, the concept of him finding everything I wasn’t giving him with another woman danced in my mind.
I just didn’t care.
What did it matter? I found love! It filled me up. It was like insanity. Just that this was … peaceful, blissful. I could feel my footsteps were lighter. I could have floated. In a twisted way, I loved the secrecy; not telling everyone I was in love. It’s like finding a treasure and hiding it from prying, envious eyes. Sometimes, something bad happens to treasures that we show the world. I didn’t want anything bad to happen to this; to us.
One weekend, Chisaraokwu invited me over to her home. Funny thing was that she had a flatmate; a young man about our age. What was I supposed to think? I just assumed they were lovers. I felt betrayed. I could have wagered Chisaraokwu had a thing for me. But, what if it was all in my head? Maybe I mistook her guileless friendship for affection. Then again, I couldn’t have imagined the jolts I felt whenever she touched me. I couldn’t have imagined those intense gazes that searched my soul leaving me thinking she had seen my depraved, debauched desires, which bordered on Sapphic eroticism.
“Chisa talks about you a lot. You two are … dating?”
“No.” I was uncomfortable.
And they were on pet name basis? Nice. She didn’t like me calling her “Chisa”. Once, I called her that and she almost freaked out on me. “You are about to drop down on my like scale. Like from 10 to 2.”
“What’s the biggie? Who hates pet names?”
“I just don’t like them. Just call it in full.”
“So, if you were let’s say ‘Nneka’, I wouldn’t call you ‘NK’?”
“Yes. I hate abbreviations. Just call it in full. What’s the meaning of Chisa? Tell me. Does it make sense to you? ‘Chisa, Chisa’… no. Call it in full.”
It became clear to me that we were just friends. I probably didn’t really mean much to her. And there I was imagining… How could she send conflicting signals in one breath? She pulled me in yet pushed at once and it was all so confusing and exciting. I hated that I was in awe of her.
Later at night, in her bed, I asked her why he thought we had a thing.
“Oh… well, he thinks we’re an item. I’ve told him we’re not. I mention you. We’re like best friends of some sort now. It’s like I see you more than I see other people. Don’t mind him… He’s just messing with ya,” she stared at me in that manner that made me want to throw caution to the wind and ravage her. But, what would she think? I didn’t want to lose her as a friend. It’s not like she indicated that she was attracted to women. As if she was reading my thoughts, she asked, “You don’t mind that I like women, right?”
“No,” I shook my head like I was on autopilot. This was the first time she was telling me. I should have acted funny. You know, make an issue out of this but I couldn’t. I’m not into drama. Moreover, I was turned on. Ha! She must have noticed my breath was heavier. She was aware of the effect she had on me. She smirked and turned off the light of the bedside lamp.
“Good night, Tess,” she whispered.
I felt disappointed. What was I expecting?
Three months into our friendship, we were really best friends. We had sleepovers. Innocent sleepovers. When I got tired of the innocence, I invited her to my place. It was time to up the ante.
We did everything the same way- made dinner, watched a movie, bath, and relaxed with a glass of wine. Like I planned, I decided to be daring.
I kissed her.
She didn’t object.
I took her quiescence for acquiescence and we ended up having sex.
“I wanted you to make the first move,” she murmured me as she nuzzled my ear and traced circles on my thighs. “I didn’t want you to get scared and… you have Marcus with…”
Marcus. Marcus … His name echoed in my head. I made a mental note to ask her never to mention his name again.
That was how we began an intense, torrid romance.
Everything before this, everything I ever felt before this, paled in comparison. She was an ocean and I was downing and I didn’t want anyone to save me.
Working together in the same office added a certain thrill to our affair. There were stolen kisses in the restroom, gazes filled with longing and laced with many words, a little touch here and there… I knew this was the real deal.
I was helplessly in love and desperately in lust with her.
I didn’t want this to stop.
I spent every weekend with Chisaraokwu and gradually, she pulled me into her circle and all her friends knew we were in a relationship. I saw less of most of my friends. I didn’t mind because I loved hanging out with her and her friends. Terra Kulture was our main place. As time went on, I began losing interest in my job. I knew there was more to me than being an accountant in a big firm on the Island. I decided to be expressive. I felt writing was a vent for me.
I wrote my first poem for her and she laughed at it. I felt crushed.
“You just had to write this?” she kissed me. I felt juvenile. That kiss was… patronising. I hated her that instant. “Lover, you can do better. I’ll get you anthologies. I think you should start with Emily Dickenson. But, you could go with other poets. It’s the thought that counts. Thanks, baby.”
In four months, I think I improved a great deal. I found myself reciting my poems at open mic nights and it was amazing. She showed me off to everyone. I made her proud. I made her happy and this made me happy.
“Let’s travel,” she said sometime in 2016 as we were having brunch in bed.
“Where would we go?”
“Somewhere,” she grinned at me. It was that mischievous grin she had before she did something naughty.
“I want us to live far away from here. Far away from him, especially. I hate that he still touches your skin-” she took my palm in hers’ and kissed my wrist while looking me in the eye. I quivered from that contact. I recognised that dark look- she was peering at me though her lashes like she had a grievous secret with a half smile I knew what it meant. She kissed the inside of my palm. Her kisses were electrifying. “- and kisses you like I do,” she moved asides the tray between us. Straddling me, she firmly held my chin and kissed me- languid and slow and demanding and assuring… Her kisses were unspoken tomes of literature that showed how much she was in love with me.
Truthfully, Marcus dangled on the peripheral of my memory as if he were a childhood memory. How could he still believe we were in a relationship? Some things weren’t adding up. In fact, I told him I was done with us but he wouldn’t accept. He convinced me we were meant to be. When I had his incessant pleas to fever pitch, I came up with an idea.
“I do,” I beamed at the man in the tuxedo. For most part of the “event”, I was in a daze. That was the happiest day of my life but he wasn’t the reason for my happiness.
At my lover’s request, I choose April 1st, 2017 as the wedding date. The plan was simple: I’d get married to Marcus and sometime during the reception, I’d sneak out and meet up with Chisaraokwu, and together, we’d ride into the sunset (I know it’s cliché).
Jokes aside, I’d meet her up and we’d drive to the hotel and get ready for our flight to Australia. We choose Australia. It’s far from “home” and no one would find us easily. If at all they did, it would be after the noise of my hoky-poky had ebbed away.
I knew Chisaraokwu wouldn’t show up on time. My girl likes to take her time. She thinks packing luggage is art. Weirdo Woman. Chisaraokwu’s attention to detail bordered on persnickety. “Everything is art,” she’d say. “Never rush a work of art.”
Almost two hours into the reception, there was no sign of Chisaraokwu. I tried so hard to hide that I was panicking. I wished I could excuse myself to call my sweetheart. Deep in my soul, I knew something was amiss. Did she change her mind? No way! She wouldn’t screw me over like that. I had to put up a front like everything was alright. I couldn’t leave the event centre dressed as a “happy bride”. I had to wait.
Marcus looked at me quizzically during the couple’s dance – a slow, drab waltz-, “are you alright?” he smiled. “You seem… far away. Is everything alright?”
“Yes,” was I that obvious? I hated his voice. I hated that his hand was on the small of my back with his lips few inches from my eyes. I hated the way he smelt. I hated the beards that brushed against my skin intermittently. Most of all, I hated that my sweetheart wasn’t here.
“Tess, you are bothered about her?” that question dropped on me like a heavy weight and crushed something inside me. I was taken aback and shocked to my core. I literally felt my heart skip a beat. How did he know I was bothered about Chisaraokwu? Slowly I looked up at him with indifference.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said defiantly.
“You know damn right,” he smirked.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I retorted almost with venom as I pirouetted away from him like that would make me escape from him, from the reception, from the fraud, and take me to her.
The guests cheered at that move.
Soon, I was in his arms again. Leaning into me, he whispered in a sing-song manner, “Chisaraokwu”.
I swallowed. I could feel my heart pounding wildly in my chest as blood flowed to my ears and it seemed I heard the ocean break its bound as it flowed into the land and I wished it could carry me away. Far, far away from all this.
I felt humiliated.
How did he know? Did she tell him? Was this a joke? Was the April Fool’s joke on me? The ability to string words together left me. I wanted to run away from everything. Including her.
“You were fucking a girl behind my back. Why would you do that without telling me? Well, I don’t blame you. It’s not like I told you I’m gay. Chisa was able to figure it out last year. Just don’t panic, okay? We’re going to act normal,” he kissed me lightly on the lips as the song faded with the tinkling notes of the piano.
Grasping the next things the MC said was difficult as the floor underneath me seemed to tilt. Firmly, I held on to Marcus the way a sailor holds a raft so he won’t drown. Many questions swirled in my head as we walked to the loveseat. I couldn’t bring myself to ask any of them.
“Well, I tried to hide from myself but it wasn’t making sense. You weren’t disturbed that I didn’t mind that we weren’t so close after Chisa came into the picture? She promised not to tell you, though. Honestly, I need this wedding. Everyone has been on my neck to get married. I hate the pressure. That was why I insisted that we go on with the whole thing when you wanted to break up with me. This way, we give everyone what they want. Because, in the real sense, they are not even concerned about our happiness or anything. It’s the owambe they want. They want to wear aso ebi and eat owambe food.
“This was Chisa’s idea, though. You know satisfy them with a fake wedding. But, she told me that you two will be travelling out to Australia. And it’s cute. You are lucky that you found love with her. I hope I find me a guy that would feel so much about me. She’s crazy about you,” he shrugged. “I asked her not to come since I’ll be taking you to your hotel. She’s waiting there. I’ll just give this toast and we’ll get the fuck out of here. I made plans with a friend of mine, though. I’m leaving to the UK. Start my life without pretending to be who I’m not. Ready?” I was too shocked to talk. I just watched him.
He rose up and signalled he wanted to make a toast by raising the wineglass, “I want to make a toast.” He turned to look at me with a huge smile. Stretching his hand towards me, he nodded at me. Although what he told me was too much, the shock had segued into relief. It was amusing how I never suspected he was gay. And Chisaraokwu didn’t tell me about her grand scheme? She probably thought telling me about it would jinx it.
I shook my head in mirth as I smiled. They probably thought I smiled because of the toast.
“Thanks everyone for coming to this wedding,” his baritone voice boomed and resonated through the hall. “You people are bothered by single people. Why? How many of you have really happy homes? Yet,” he pointed at the crowd, “you shame young people for not partaking in your misery. Only few of you are happy. The rest of you just hide your misery behind whatever facade. Appearance over happiness!
“Some of you here are too promiscuous- you think marriage is the cure to your randy ways? Monogamy wasn’t meant for everyone. You’ll deceive yourselves that your bible says one man and one wife. Abraham had more than one woman. Don’t tell me it’s an old testament thing. You people are confused. Your holy book has two contradictory religions. If your God loves confusion, mine doesn’t.
“You people assume everyone wants to get married? No. Judgemental people like you are the ones that make single people feel inadequate. Why can’t a woman have children outside wedlock? Mba. You people are too judgemental. Even if it’s different sins, it’s the same hell that all sinners would go.
“Not every person out there is even straight. Some people are gay. How will they be happy married to someone they don’t love? It doesn’t make sense. What is your business with what people are doing in bed? Stupid fools would beat up and kill gay people. Idiots! Murder is a sin and the blood of a gay person is on your head and your generations. Jesus forgave Mary Magdalene when everyone wanted to stone her.
“You should stop imagining that every woman has maternal instincts. Marriage and motherhood do not define womanhood. Same thing for guys. Having children doesn’t enforce your manhood, manliness- whatever. The pressure is much on women. If you are a girl here and you feel in your hearts of hearts that marriage isn’t for you, don’t enter it o. Better be happy single than marry and be miserable.
“Since you people wanted the wedding without being interested in if we are happy; all you people want is ‘sha let them marry’, we’ve given you people wedding o. Enjoy the rice and I hope the aso ebi last on your backs. This wedding is fake. So… April Fool! All of una April Fool!” He dropped the mic on the table.
Silence like a bad stench pervaded the air thereby numbing everyone. The guests were spellbound after his impassioned speech. No one moved a muscle.
Taking me by the hand, Marcus led us as we pranced out of the reception. I loved the look of horror on their faces. I couldn’t help but giggle as we ran to the car. I didn’t have time to ask if that grand speech was part of the scheme. Whatever!
For the first time since I met Marcus, I felt respect and admiration swell in my chest until I thought my heart would burst into smithereens.