Girls have the habit of burning their ex-boyfriends’ stuff when they know the relationship is really over and there’s no hope of a reunion. As for me, I didn’t go through that stage of hatred for all things James. I kept little pieces of James with me—his Arsenal mug, a few of his t-shirts, his boxers and his perfume. The perfume was the most important. It always made me feel better whenever I was down but for some stupid reason I had left it at Loretta’s place and being holed up in Fiyin’s bathroom with no comfort through Saturday night, it was hell. But the last thing I expected was to hear James’ voice the next evening and to hear it calling my name.
“Amaka?” he knocked on the bathroom door. “Are you okay?”
I didn’t trust my voice to sound normal, so I kept quiet.
“Can you please, open the door? Please?”
Not with my own power oh, but something pushed me and took me to the door and used my hand to turn that key and open that door. It was also not by power or might that I held James and broke down in his arms, so nobody should say that I went after him. I stayed there for a long time and the yeye James held me tight and was tapping current. When I realized that all my friends were standing at the door to Fiyin’s room and looking at us with this awww-they’re-so-cute expression on their faces, I pushed James, picked my handbag and started leaving the house. Fiyin ran after me.
“Amaka!” I stopped and turned. “Amaka, what is wrong with you? Abi you don dey craze ne? You didn’t even ask where the Loretta that was threatening fire and brimstone is and why she’s not here with the police.”
I crossed my arms. “Where is she?”
“Iz now ya asking. You’re a very selfish human being! Very selfish! You misplaced your sister’s money and instead of you to gaan beg her, you ran into the bathroom and hid yourself and switched off your phone! You won’t even talk to me no matter how much I begged you. Just thank God for James oh, because me, I gave up wanting to help you in any way. He has already promised Loretta the 500k and that was why she left, and instead of you thanking him, ya storming off as if he owes you something.”
Apart from the fact that Fiyin had this hawt body that I so wanted to covet, she made sense most of the time but at that moment I didn’t want to hear anything she was saying, especially when it had to do with James and my controlling half-sister, Loretta.
“Who asked you to put mouth in my own matter? Ehn, Fi? Who the hell asked you? Is it me that told Loretta to give me money to put in the bank or is it me that called James to come and be forming hero?”
“But shey you were the one hugging him now-now? Are you not still the same person that will be crying in the night because you can’t sleep without him? Or abi you’ve forgotten how you almost went mad when you heard that he got back with whatshername? Now that he’s here and you have the chance to make it right, you’re forming and acting all high and mighty!”
What was this dumbass chick talking about? Didn’t she know James was standing behind her, soaking in every word?
“So I should just go back to the same James that dumped me for no reason?” I shouted, making sure he heard every word.
“Yes! Why do you think he came here? He still loves you, Maxy. And all he wanted to do was comfort you with all the stress you went through this weekend. At least, give him a chance,” she begged. “Give all of us a chance. If Loretta hadn’t told us what was happening to you, we wouldn’t have known. That’s how you would have been dying in silence.”
“You want to know what I went through?”
“Yes! At least, talk to me, Maxy,” she said in tears.
“Let me gist you how my weekend started. I was PMSing! Yes, James, women tins, not that I expect you to understand. I had all the symptoms, headache, excess weight, waist pain, pimples all over, as you can see…so my Friday morning was already messed up. As I was about to go and take my bath, Loretta’s momsie got on my case and wanted a fight. I didn’t want long talk, so I sha insulted her. When I got to work, my boss – that old, disgusting thing with his oily face decided he had gathered enough liver and stretched his ugly hands to grab my breasts in his office. The audacity! If you see the way I slapped him ehn, I’m sure I altered his DNA and the next child he will give birth to will have the marks of my fingers on his face.”
James tried hard not to smile.
“That’s not all! I went home and I don’t know what demon entered popsie that he packed my clothes to the very last studded earring I have and threw them out of the gate just because I insulted his wife. He said that I was not allowed back unless I came back with a husband. He said all my mates were married and had stable income but I was ‘globetrotting’ and bound to catch something worse than an STD soon.”
“No, popsie can’t say that,” James said.
“Do you know my popsie?” I lashed at him. “Have you ever met him before?”
“Then the old man took my car from me and said that my using a car will drive prospective husbands away. That was how I was kicked out and that was how I found my way to Loretta’s place. She was on her way to Ibadan and she gave me some money to put in her pastor’s account. They stole the money from me in the bus while I was sleeping. So, there you have it. My messed up weekend and my messed up life!”
After sharing my woes, I turned around and left the house.
“Amaka!” This time it was James calling me.
“What nau?” I turned around and he walked to me.
“I’m sorry, Amaka,” he said, “about your weekend and all you went through.”
“I feel responsible for all that happened and I want to make things right for you, for us.”
“For us? Which us, James? What happened to your madam? Abi she too suddenly developed an unwitting character with no future ambition?”
“What I did to you was cruel and I don’t expect you to trust me after this but can you give us another chance?”
My mouth dropped open and I looked at him as if he was one ugly alien. The words that wanted to come out of my mouth were too angry and too X-rated, so I just gave him a bad smile and left him standing there. I heard him calling my name but I quickly stopped an okada and went to Loretta’s place.
For three weeks, James bugged me. There was always a missed call and a text every single day but I ignored him completely. All I was interested in was reading my Bible and the twice a week counseling sessions I was having with Pastor Ishi. It’s not that I turned into this holy-holy person but I desperately needed God in my life.
On a particular Sunday evening, while I was trying to sleep, the door burst open and my four elder sisters came in and told me to get my ass dressed and follow them to see my popsie for some form of reconciliation. They forced me into our firstborn’s car and two of them sandwiched me in the backseat. On the way, they started giving lessons about men.
“Amaka, I heard you are forming for our fine boy. Why?”
“Why not?” I lashed.
“Don’t you know good men are hard to come by these days?”
“Tell her! You want to end up being like Loretta abi?”
Quick history. We are nine girls, all born to one father because he was looking for a male child. I was only two years old when he drove my momsie out of the house because she was giving birth to only female children. But he already had a girlfriend outside the house that he was hiding from everybody. Just two months after momsie left, he brought the girlfriend in and people were shocked to see that she already had two girls for him. In short, Loretta who was the first, was three years older than me. As the years went by, Loretta’s momsie added two more girls for popsie, making us nine in all.
“She’s thirty years old and still no husband in sight.”
They were still on Loretta’s case. Was I supposed to learn something from it?
“She will keep paying money into that her pastor’s account for ‘special prayers’”
They said the ‘special prayers’ together and burst into laughter.
“Hopefully, the man will use the money to ask for her man in marriage.”
Another round of laughter.
“Okay, okay, okay, let’s be serious now. Amaka, you have to do everything to make sure you hook the next man you date and we’re going to teach you how.”
“Now?” I asked.
I knew what they were talking about and honestly, I didn’t want to hear it. The last time they had this talk, it was with Loretta and I was there and it was embarrassing because my sisters talked about sex like they created it. It was no big secret that they all controlled their husbands with their bedroom skills.
“The lesson is on how to make sure accidents occur during protected sex.”
“Why?” I almost cried. “I’m not sleeping with any man! I’m keeping my body for my husband!”
I received a hard slap on my back and a warm rub after that and a “don’t let anybody hear you say that or they will say I didn’t train you well.”
“Now listen: when he insists on using a condom, don’t argue with him. Instead, handle the condom yourself. Let me see your nails!”
I stretched out my hand and showed them my long, natural nails.
“Good! You have to use these your sharp nails to puncture the condom and also make sure you use petroleum jelly as a lube.”
“Yes, blue seal is the best. Before you guys go halfway, the condom will burst.”
“And before you know it, you’ll be pregnant!”
“Make sure you’re ovulating, though, so that you can be sure.”
Oh God, wash my ears after this.
“But Aunty,” I complained carefully, bending my back for fear of another slap, “it’s not good to sleep with a man before you marry him. What if he does not marry you in the end? That’s what James did to me before.”
“That’s because you did not get pregnant. This time you will make sure he puts that bun in the oven. Inukwa? The women in our family are very fertile. Apart from Loretta.”
They laughed again.
“You just have to take in. It’s getting too late for you.”
Getting too late? I am only twenty-seven. This had to be my mother’s doing. Somehow, from her house in Enugu she still found a way to control our lives. Three of my sisters had carried on her instructions to the letter and had gotten pregnant before they got married and now it was my turn to follow the family tradition. My dad who was supposed to be neutral in all of this had teemed with them because he wanted a new car to add to the four he already got from my sisters’ husbands. I felt choked and wanted to run. Saying my mind was not an option.
As my sister’s car parked outside the gate of our family house, my heart started pounding. I saw a strange car I didn’t recognize and knew immediately that my popsie had brought a husband for me. Hian! Igbo tins! I had heard all about arranged marriages and had insulted the girls that allowed their parents push them into that type of stupidity; now it was my turn.
What was I to do? Where was Pastor Ishi when I needed him?
Tears were already gathering in my eyes as I neared the door. My plan was to cry and grab my popsie’s leg until his heart melted towards me and he changed his mind but for now, holding my immediate senior tight would do. She dragged me in.
At first the parlor was dark because outside had been very sunny and my eyes had not adjusted to the darkness but one by one, I made out the people there. I greeted my popsie and Loretta’s mother and when I turned towards my by-force husband, I started from his legs because I was afraid that his face would be ugly and I won’t like him. But when I saw the familiar feet of James and saw that they were crossed together, Hausa style, I raised my head and gave him a very nasty look.
My popsie said something, Loretta’s mother also spoke, someone else joked and they were all laughing but I was still standing beside my popsie and talking to James subliminally.
ME: what are you doing here?
ME: What is ?
ME: If you know what’s good for you, better start going.
“Amaka!” Loretta’s mother shouted my name and I turned to her.
“Where’s your mind? We’ve been calling you since!”
“She’s been looking at him,” my popsie said with a proud smile. “It’s young love.”
Somehow that was funny and they all laughed, including James.
“Oya, down to business. Come and sit here,” the old man said and shifted so I could share his chair with him. He is a very thin man and me I don’t have any ass so the chair took us comfortably. At that moment, all our previous beef ended.
“Chiamaka, do you know this man? He said his name is…gini bu afa gi?” he asked James.
“What’s your name?” Loretta’s mother repeated the question.
“James Haliru Bako.”
“Do you know this awusa fellow, Chiamaka?”
“You do? Why didn’t you tell me you had a man nah? And you allowed me send you out to fish for nothing?”
You kicked me out.
I said, “daddy, James is not–”
“My friend, will you stop interrupting daddy while he’s talking?” Loretta said and it was only then I realized she was in the parlor. Now everything began to make sense. She was actually behind the whole arrangee.
“So, he has officially come to ask for your hand in marriage but before I say yes, I have to ask you, as is customary: is this the man you want to marry?”
I couldn’t believe the question. With killer eyes I looked at Loretta and then at all my seniors and at James and knew there was no way out. I stared at the door. It wasn’t too late to walk out.