Falling in love with Duke was better than anything I could ever have imagined. So much better.
With Dozie, we had a lot in common but very little passion. With Amobi, the passion was there but we struggled to hold conversation for even thirty minutes. But with Duke…with Duke, I had both. From the minute I opened my eyes in the morning to the second I shut my eyes at night, he was with me…in my heart, my thoughts, my soul. He soon became my everything.
And the beauty of it was that as deeply as I loved him…he loved me so much more.
Everyday at 5am, his call would wake me, and I would meet him outside for our morning walk, during which time we would pray the Rosary together. By 6am, we would be done, and I would sit with him as he washed his old Toyota Celica, listening to his eclectic range of music , after which we would go either to his place or mine, for breakfast…but it was almost always his. Duke could cook better than Aunty Ekwi, Anuli and I combined. Most mornings, I would sit with him as he made either a full English breakfast, or fried plantain and yam with egg sauce, or even akara and akamu. The man was a beast in the kitchen. Then, with Nurse Alice, I would help him serve his mother her breakfast, after which we would retire to his living room…talking about every and anything, for pretty much the rest of the day. This was our daily ritual, and every single day, I couldn’t help but marvel over how lucky I was to have him.
He made my heart smile.
Many a times, when we kissed and things started to heat up, I was ready to forget all my principles and give myself to him completely. But he was the one who always restrained us from going too far.
“I’m ready!” was what I would say, many a time.
And instead, he would kiss me gently and shake his head. “We have all the time in the world, sweetness. Let’s do this right.”
We made so many beautiful plans. As my time in Ogwashi was fast coming to an end, we decided that I would extend my stay for a few more months.
“I want to marry you, Golibe.” he said to me, one evening. “You are the one I’ve been waiting for, for 39 years. I want to build my future with you.”
“40 years actually.” I remarked slyly.
“I’m not 40 until Christmas Day, young lady!” he laughed. “I still have another 2 months to go, thank you very much! Until then, I’m still a very young man in his 30s.”
“So, you want to marry me and turn me into a bona fide village woman!” I teased.
He shook his head. “Mom has made a lot of progress. And if she continues this way, I don’t expect to be here longer than another 6 months. We’ll return to England together.”
Now that sounded like a plan to me!
“It’s truly amazing how much progress your mom has made though!” I remarked on another occasion. “It’s amazing what you getting a shave and a hair cut did to her.”
And it was true. Seeing her son return to his old self had been the catalyst she needed for her improvement.
“It’s so ironic that all these years, I’ve actually been the cure as well as the cause!” Duke had also remarked. “The more unkempt I looked, the worse I made her feel.”
“Or maybe it’s the fact that you’ve found yourself a pretty, young lady that’s made the difference!” I teased.
Oh yes. If there was anyone who loved me just as much as Duke…it was Mama Duke. Her eyes would dance and she would sing and shower me with encomiums and praises, from the minute she saw me everyday. And not a day went by that she didn’t join my hands with her son’s in prayer for us. She very clearly approved of our union, and that made our love so much more beautiful. We never prodded her further for information about what she might know about my birth mother, as the last thing we wanted was to decelerate her path to improvement.
Also thrilled about our relationship were Anuli and Aunty Ekwi. Even though my aunt expressed her reservations about the age difference, she could see that the love he had for me was superior to anything to the contrary. Not to mention the fact that she had also become a slave to his cooking.
“Nwata nwoke a mara esi nni!” she had exclaimed, feasting on a meal of pounded yam and egusi he’d prepared for us, one day. “That woman might be crazy oh, but she did a good job with her son!”
Also caught up in a romance of her own, was Anuli. James proved that he hadn’t just been spewing words, the night he told me that he wanted to marry her. He was clearly not joking at all! He courted her with a vengeance. All the way from Eket, he was in Ogwashi every other weekend, and I watched happily as Anuli’s fear slowly gave way to yielding to, and accepting, his love…and giving love of her own. When they announced that they would be getting married traditionally the week after Christmas, we were all overjoyed.
“Who would have thought it would happen for me?!” she remarked, the evening she made the announcement, staring at the beautiful diamond ring James had given her. “I have to be honest, I had already accepted the fact that I would be a hustler forever. I had accepted the fact that no man would ever want me…especially not for a wife! Now look at me, planning a wedding in only a few months!” and then she had teared up…and so had I. It was truly incredibly emotional. When I arrived Nigeria 3 months before, she had been living for the next credit alert from one unsuitable man to the other, but now, here she was, about to marry a man better than all the previous jokers combined.
“Anuli is getting married!!!” I squealed to Chuka, when we spoke on the phone.
“She already told me. That’s fantastic news!” he remarked. “I’m really happy for her. I’m glad she can finally see that she deserves to have a good life.”
I smiled, listening to my brother, who had always been fond of her. “Do you ever wish things had been different with the two of you?”
“Of course not. Anuli has always been like my baby sister. She might be only a year younger than me, but she’s needed a watchful eye for as long as I can remember.” he answered, before adding, “Besides, I have some news of my own. I want to ask Georgie to marry me.”
I squealed in glee. Georgie was my brother’s longtime girlfriend. A beautiful Welsh redhead, they’d met when he treated her father, after the old man suffered horrific bone injuries during a reckless ride on his Harley Davidson bike (mid-life crises, they said). In the hospital, love had blossomed between the patient’s daughter and the young, handsome Orthopaedic surgeon, and it was still blossoming 5 years down the line.
“I actually thought you were going to ask her at your 40th birthday dinner last year.” I remarked.
“To be honest, I just felt under so much pressure.” he admitted. “It was bad enough I was turning 40, but then to have that cloud of expectation over my head was just too much. I think she also thought I would as well.”
“So, what’s changed now?”
“I just woke up one day, and realised I can’t live without her. If she leaves me tomorrow…I don’t know what I’ll do.” he answered, and being in love myself, my heart melted anew.
“But I can’t ask her until you’re back home.” he said, surprising me. “I’m planning a small proposal party, and you’re the only family I’ve got. You have to be here.”
I swallowed hard, not knowing how to tell him I wanted to extend my stay by a few more months. I still hadn’t told him about Duke, which was an anomaly, considering I told him every single thing. But I found myself scared about telling him I had fallen in love with a man his age.
“Have you decided when you’re coming home yet?” Chuka asked. “Or have you made any progress with finding this Ginika person?”
Another brick wall. All the ‘Ginikas’ Anuli or Aunty Ekwi knew were either too old (in the latter’s age group), or too young (in mine). Coupled with the fact that Anuli and I were too loved up to give the search much effort, it didn’t take long for that lead to grow cold.
“Errrm…a little…” I lied. “There are a few things I’m checking out. I might have to extend my stay for a few more weeks…”
“Oh, Emma!” Chuka exclaimed. “I can’t propose to Georgie without you here!”
“Just give me till Christmas.” I pleaded. “Right after Anuli’s wedding, I’ll be back home. I promise.”
He had reluctantly agreed, leaving me pondering how I would get Duke to agree to leave with me immediately after the holidays.
“You still haven’t told Chuka about us.” Duke remarked, as we lay on the couch in my living room, when I’d told him about the conversation.
“I’d rather do that face to face.” I answered. “I know my brother, and he’ll immediately start thinking the worst. He might even show up in Ogwashi!”
Duke laughed. “Understandably too. I would be extremely protective if I had a sister your age.”
“So, you don’t mind leaving for England sooner than we’d planned?” I asked.
“Mom is doing excellently well! I’m sure I should be able to leave then.” he answered, making my heart sing. “I just need to make the necessary arrangements for her care.”
Just then, I heard the familiar sound of a bike pulling up in front of the house. Looking out the window, I squealed in delight at the sight of Awele disembarking from the commercial bike and paying him off. I opened the door and threw myself on my older cousin, in an ecstatic embrace. Walking into the house, we were giggling and talking all at once, when she spotted Duke sitting on the couch.
“Na wa oh! I heard about the two love birds!” she said, a big smile on her face. “Nduka, you will pay oh! So, it’s my small cousin your eye has landed on.”
Duke rose to his feet and embraced her. “It’s great to see you, Awele. You look very well.”
And so she did. She didn’t look quite as harried and dishevelled as she’d looked 3 months before. Though her clothing still looked like a wardrobe replacement wouldn’t be a bad idea, she looked happier…peaceful even.
“God has been kind to us.” was her simple answer.
Later that evening, after Duke had gone home, it was just Awele, Anuli and I in our bedroom, squealing and happily planning Anuli’s wedding.
“You don’t know how happy this has made me!” Awele remarked. “When you told me, I was dancing all night! I didn’t sleep a wink! I knew I had to come and see you and hear it while looking at your mouth!”
“What did Pastor Ize say?” Anuli giggled.
“You sef you know your ‘friend’! He said that if you could find a man willing to marry you, then truly nothing is impossible for God!” Awele laughed.
“That your husband is a yeye man!” Anuli retorted, also bursting into laughter.
“We actually took your advice.” Awele said, when the laughter had subsided. “I insisted on him getting himself tested. When he tried to resist as usual, I had to report him to our senior pastor. So he went…” she sighed deeply. “It turns out my husband has low sperm count. Very, very low.”
“Ewo! What about those his ‘children’ from before?!” Anuli exclaimed, prompting a scathing look from me.
“He had those children as a younger man, Anuli.” Awele retorted. “Secondary infertility is possible. So don’t go getting any silly ideas!”
“So what are you going to do?” I asked.
“Pray for a miracle.” was Awele’s response. “But you know what? Even with the diagnosis, I just have this peace in my heart that everything will be fine. We don’t have the money for IVF or anything, but I’m just confident that my God is up to something.”
And up to something, He was! The next morning, Anuli surprised her older sister with a cheque for a million naira.
“Anuli!!!” Awele exclaimed, her eyes bulging in her shock. “Where did you get this kind of money?!”
“It’s most of what I got from Chuka…” Anuli answered self-consciously. “To babysit Golibe. It’s actually in fixed deposit, so you won’t be able to cash it until January though.”
Awele’s eyes teared and she embraced her sister, shouting and singing songs of praise. Watching them, I was also tearful, proud of Anuli for the sacrifice she had made.
“I’m going to open a special account for this cheque!” Awele said, her excitement uncontainable. “As soon as I can cash it, I’ll make a down-payment at the fertility clinic right away. I’ll be 43 next year, so we need to move fast. Ah, my Jesus, I thank You!”
“If you need more, please let me know.” Anuli said, patting her hand. “I’ll be married to a money bag by that time, so no shaking.” she added with a sly wink, to which both sisters laughed and gave each other a hand clap.
“Nwunye onye oru mmanu!” Awele hailed her sister. “Wife of an oil worker! Na you biko!”
“My sister, na God oh!” Anuli giggled in turn. “I thank God you made the decision to come home, Golbe.” Anuli said, looking at me. “Just look at all the blessings. I found James. We’ve been able to give Awele money for her treatment…”
“You found Duke!” Awele added, with a wink.
“It makes up for not being able to find my mother.” I said, smiling. I hadn’t meant to sour the mood, but somehow, the reminder of my failed mission did just that.
“So, no luck with that yet?” Awele asked.
Anuli shook her head. “Nothing. It’s been like knocking one’s head on a brick wall.”
“No more leads since you went to Onitsha?” Awele asked.
Anuli laughed. “Well, there was a small scare about Duke’s mother being Golibe’s as well.”
“Chineke!” Awele exclaimed. “God forbid bad thing oh!”
“Then, we now got the lead that her mother’s name is Ginika. And all of a sudden, all the Ginikas in the town have disappeared!”
Awele frowned. “Na wa oh. Ginika.” she muttered, frowning. “Have you asked Sister Petra? She should know all her namesakes in this town. Or at least most of them.”
Anuli and I looked at Awele abruptly. “Namesakes?!”
“Isn’t that her middle name?” Awele asked. “I thought I saw a name like that on that diary they made for her 20th anniversary as a Reverend Sister.”
In a flash, Anuli dashed out of the room, with Awele and I hot on her tail. She ran down the corridor to Aunty Ekwi’s room.
“O gini?!” the old woman demanded, as the three of us scampered in. “Is there a fire or something? What is all this excitement for?!”
“Do you still have the notepad from Sister Petra’s 20th anniversary?” Anuli asked, panting.
Looking around my aunt’s clutter-filled room, I was sure there was no way such a notepad could emerge from that mess. The room looked like a strong contender for those reality shows where they expose, and try to cure, hoarders.
Aunty Ekwi frowned, and leaned over to open her bedside drawer. She pulled a notepad, stacked amongst probably 20 others, and flung it across the bed.
As I reached for it, I could feel my heart beating right out of my chest. Engraved just below a smiling face of the ever pleasant Sister Petra, was her full name.
Petra Stella-Maris Ginikachi Nkadi.
Catch up on Golibe’s story here:
- Golibe 1: The Journey
- Golibe 2: Brave
- Golibe 3: Blood Relative
- Golibe 4: Strangers
- Golibe 5: Fill the Gaps
- Golibe 6: Awele
- Golibe 7: Frolicking
- Golibe 8: The Trunk
- Golibe 9: Retrace my steps
- Golibe 10: The Exchange
- Golibe 11: Quoting Shakespeare
- Golibe 12: Dead End
- Golibe 13: Something in the Water
- Golibe 14: Intoxicated Butterflies
- Golibe 15: The Boyfriend
- Golibe 16: Anuli
- Golibe 17: Masters of their fate
- Golibe 18: Ex-Wife
- Golibe 19: Falling
- Golibe 20: Nervous Breakdown
- Golibe 21: Much ado about nothing
- Golibe 22: Blood Brother
Catch up on our other series here: