THE FIRST TIME WE… WENT ON HOLIDAY
“Second First Dance”
There are many things I wish were different as I sit here, waiting in the sparse whiteness of this departure lounge. I wish my youth had been wrought with troubles. I wish I had been one of those girls who spent three afternoons a month on a brown worn chair, retelling with a detached voice the now frayed story of how she got raped by a friend’s elder brother, emotion only leaching into her voice when she notes that she would have given herself willingly if only he had asked. I wish I’d gotten my fragile slipper heart gnawed on by dogs and mended only barely by a kind cobbler; I wish I had fallen so many times and the grass had grown all around my body and entombed me right there on the floor.
I wish. Because then, maybe I would have used up all my bad luck and in the process learned to live, regardless.
The day we first met nine years ago is still flush with colour when I replay it in my head. It feels like my compass, guiding me back to you from this pit of nothingness in which I have found myself mired. That day, that chance meeting at the Bogobiri festival, hands reaching for the same book and the conversation that our mutual surprise began are my Thesean thread, the one that leads to other memories and back to the safety of sanity. Running my hand along it warms my heart, and the last five years have had me longingly stroking it, content to know it’s there and at the other end, you; my Ariadne. I want to let go of it and sink back into safe oblivion but this time I cannot, I have to find you again.
I remember us teetering on the edge of oblivion, it was our thing. ‘A mutual understanding of the unspeakable sadness that lurks beneath the surface of every happy relationship’ was the first thing you said as we found our table on our first ‘proper’ date. I was a poet and Greek literature enthusiast and you were a song writer and self professed father-in-waiting.
“I’m merely existing.” You’d said, stirring the sea of black coffee in your mug. “My life is just a series of events leading up to the birth of my first child. Once I hear that strangled cry, then will I breathe my first real breath.”
It fascinated me, to meet someone so decidedly focused on something I’d never really given any thought to. I was twenty four and had six siblings, the youngest born when I was just ten. At no point in my life was there ever a distinct period devoid of nappies and toddlers and daredevil six year olds. Having children of my own was a vague certainty for me, much like my hair finally growing past my shoulders if I bothered to actually give it some attention. Yet there you sat, across from me, eyes alight with possibilities. An only child who had the best of childhoods but had also known a loneliness that came from getting everything you wanted but never having anyone to bequeath it to. It was then I knew I had to marry you, I’d always known I would never be the kind of mother mine was to me, but until then I had never realized that maybe that would be okay, if I found someone like you.
We spent the next year in a whirlwind courtship. I inspired your songs and metaphors of you bridged my poems, gave them a common theme. And the sex, oh the sex? With how much we discovered of each other’s bodies we might as well have been virgins. You became ingrained in me, blemishes in the whorls of my wood, intertwined saplings reaching for the light. Then all the evils happened. And I stunted.
I remember the years you waited for me to turn to you but I do not remember when exactly you walked away. Was it when I stopped crying? Or was it when I stopped talking? Was it when I became a shadow? I just woke up one day and my home was empty; no you, no kids. And still no mother.
You need to understand that she was all I knew, and every other thing I had experienced outside of her was experienced with her. We had no one else but each other and to a large extent, we became each other. She was a child when she had me and in many ways she never got over her life veering so sharply from freedom and possibilities to drudgery and responsibility. So I raised her, the same way I raised her other children. When she went out into the world and had her fragile self esteem bruised, I cleaned her cuts and kissed them so they’d heal faster. I picked out the clothes she wore, taught her to dress for her age, chastised her when in a fit of sadness she went out into the night and came back, slurring and reeking of drowned sorrows. Then one day, she was just gone. No notice, no time to prepare. I was standing in front of my mirror, frowning at my flat belly and wondering how if I’d be as lucky as she was in pregnancy, gaining nothing but that glow after each one when you walked in, panic clouding the spark in your eyes. You said it was a robbery gone wrong but why would anybody else but I take anything from my mother? What did they know of her true value?
It was a haze after that, I threw myself into the only thing that made sense, the one thing she’d ever asked of me, grand children. Then the babies started to claw their way out, they heard you tell me my mother died and they felt me die along with her and they wanted out of my dead walking body. And I was to push? I lay on that bed calling for my mother as the midwives and nurses coaxed and screamed at me to push, asking me to think of my children. I lay there each time, delirious with pain, remembering that this was one of the things we had joked about, one of the events she had wanted dearly to experience with me. These births became the symbol for the things I would have to now do alone. I didn’t know how to do anything alone, I never had.
I barely remember them been cut out of me but I remember you telling me we had lost a twin. I remember my breasts growing firm but staying dry, further confirming my death.
That period feels like a movie I watched, half asleep in an adjacent room. I can remember the sounds and I have stark impressions of some events but all else is distant, blurry overexposed images burned into my retinas. I buried my mother and I buried one twin, I held a bottle to the lips of the other and wept silently as she watched me with my mother’s angled eyes.
You never stopped loving me, even after I died. My mother’s death had polar effects on us, it woke you up. You stopped daydreaming, grew up. Went on one knee and took me for a wife, when all everyone could see was a woman imploding in ways that end up inspiring novels and biopics. The harder you loved me the farther I pulled away. Your love was like food, it was sustenance, keeping me alive and I spat it back at you, turning away from you and everything else that made me feel alive. Rejecting the options of happiness life brought my way because no option had my mother in it.
I wanted my mother.
I wanted her and I was ready to grieve for ever, I was ready to carry the torch of her life cut short. I was ready to deny my existence because she no longer existed.
I am just one tiny eraser and my existence is more than just me. How lost can I get when a part of me is always tied to you and our child? How deep can I go when you never stop calling my name? I tried so hard to lose your light but it was always there, sometimes dim but never absent. Knowing I needed to come back home was easy; convincing myself I had the right to live and be happy without my mother was almost impossible. The fear that you will never forgive me for making you my second love and choosing to stay lost and mourn the loss of the first made me linger a little longer in despair.
But I am ready now. I am ready to let you love me, ready to feed off your love and add flesh to my shadow. I am ready to watch your eyes dance when I try and fail to pronounce your name correctly; my Ikponwonsa always missing the k my lips are unable to articulate. I am ready to meet Itohan, our daughter. I want to spend the rest of my life convincing her that I loved her even when I was dead.
And this second chance, in the form of our first holiday, the honeymoon that never was; feels like resurrection. Your letter and the tickets you sent feel like a second first dance. I’m here, in this departure lounge, with nothing but a suitcase and an envelope with your letters and the other mementos of our life together, and my mother; carried in the frown lines on my brow, scars on the inside of my wrist and my mutilated heart. I see you across the hall, grayed at the temples and a smile so wide it infects me with hope and happiness. Snatches of a song come as you cross the space between us, a song from my childhood; a haunting memory reverberating in my head. You take me in your arms and I smile as you whisper the words to the song I’m absently humming in your ear.
‘… I know you; I walked with you once upon a dream,
I know you, that look in your eyes is so familiar a gleam,
But if I know you, I know what you’ll do,
You’ll love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream…’
The First Time…We special is proudly sponsored by SureGifts.com.ng
Latest posts by Guest (see all)
- When Trying To Get Laid Goes Horribly Wrong… - October 25, 2016
- #Together4ALimb By StanbicIBTC Is Moving Children Without Limbs Forward - September 22, 2016
- Diary Of A Young Nigerian - July 30, 2016