As the weeks roll by, the three of us settle into something of a pattern. Onyeka has taken to waking up early in the morning, to ‘prepare breakfast and lunch’ for Dili and I before we leave for work. I indulge her for the first few days, but soon have to break it to her that her heavy white bread sandwiches and even heavier lunch meals of rice and/or potatoes are just too much for me. After which I leave the house just as Dili is compelled to eat breakfast with his fiancée, and I don’t see the pair of them again until I get home from work. Sometimes, I hang around to chat and other times, I don’t. I no longer feel the need to pretend when I don’t want to. The nights I feel like being alone, I politely excuse myself and retire to bed early.
Even though we have reached a congenial understanding, it inadvertently pushes Dili and I further apart, as we are unable to have any conversations that do not involve Onyeka. Which is just as well, because there really is nothing to talk about. Anymore.
Sometimes, I watch them. I watch to see how they truly are with each other, and the ease and fluidity of their connection is like a stab to my heart. She fusses over him in a way it would never have crossed my mind to, and he seems to enjoy this adulation. In the end, even I have no choice but to accept that she is a better choice for him.
But it still hurts.
Towards the end of May, after Onyeka has been with us for almost two months, I pay a frantic visit to Michelle, our Immigration Lawyer. Surely, Dili’s permanent card should be ready by now.
“I’m afraid not, Ezi.” is her frank answer.
“But you said it would be ready by our 2nd anniversary!” I exclaim in my own exasperation. “We hit the 2-year mark last week!”
“Remember I said if we were lucky, it would be ready by your 2nd wedding anniversary. I also said it could be 2 years after the issuance of his temporary card, meaning it could be another year still.” she refutes, making me want to throw up my hands in total and complete exasperation.
Walking the several blocks back home all in a bid to clear my head, I have tears pouring down my face. How am I supposed to live like this for another year?! How am I supposed to watch the man I still love cavort with the woman he has chosen, and still keep a smile on my face?! Mia keeps telling me how strong I am, but the truth is I’m really not. I’m not strong at all. I just want to return to how my life was before this whole mess started. I just want to forget Dili even exists! I am sick and tired of having to wear a fake smile on my face. I’m sick and tired of the pity I get from the likes of Azuka, who has taken it upon herself to call me weekly to ‘check on me’. I just want to return to my life as care-free as used to be!
One Saturday in early June, I am having breakfast in the kitchen when I am ambushed by Onyeka.
“Sis, i ga-arụ ọrụ taa?” she asks, before suddenly clamping her mouth with her hands and looking around nervously. “Chai. And Dili has warned me about all this Igbo I speak. I meant, are you going to work today?”
For a moment, I’m tempted to lie but decide against it. “No, not today. I just want to take things easy. And why doesn’t Dili want you speaking Igbo?”
She shrugs. “He says he wants me to get used to speaking only perfect English, especially as I’ll get a job as soon as he is able to file for me.” And then a wide smile forms on her face as she grabs me by the hand. “Since you’re free, let’s spend the day together. Ever since I got here, you’ve always been too busy. I know you have better things to do than hang out with a local girl from Nigeria, but I’d really love for us to spend some time together.”
“Don’t you and Dili have any plans today?” I ask.
“He’s gone to the gym now, and said something about stopping at the office briefly.” she answers sullenly. “Biko, Ezi. I’d really love to spend the day with you.”
At this point, I know I can’t tell her no. The truth is, even after she and Dili leave my apartment, as long as we’re all in this same New York City together, we might as well learn to be friends.
“So what do you want to do?” I ask, forcing myself to look enthusiastic.
She squeals in excitement. “First of all, I want to buy an outfit for Frank’s birthday tonight! Dili gave me money for an outfit a week ago, but having you with me to pick a bomb outfit would be so much better!”
Ah yes, Frank’s birthday. One of Dili’s friends came visiting with his wife a few weeks back and had invited all of us, myself included, for a night-out to celebrate his 40th birthday. I know he only extended the invitation to me out of pity, and I have no intention of wasting a good Saturday night club hopping with a bunch of strangers.
After breakfast and a quick shower, Onyeka and I take a cab downtown. We first of all start with the normal high street shops, before making our way to Saks Fifth Avenue, where I do most of my shopping.
“You look stunning!” I can’t help but exclaim. The truth is, everything she has tried on has looked amazing on her. I guess that’s the advantage of having a goddess-like body.
“You don’t think my hips look too big?” she asks, twirling in front of the mirror with a perplexed look on her face. “Heiii! See my stomach oh. And my breasts! Everything just bulging!”
“Onyeka, that dress is perfect on you! Some of us wish we had the curves to carry off something like this.”
“Nne, don’t even say that oh! You don’t know how lucky you are to have small breasts. I’m sure you can even afford to go somedays without wearing a bra!” she counters.
Rather than flatter me, I feel insulted.
“You don’t have half the problems I do!” she continues. “Everything always looks raw and sexual on me! But as for you, you can even be naked without looking vulgar.”
“Well, they say African men prefer women with your kind of body.” I retort.
She smiles in agreement. “True. But sometimes, you just want to be taken seriously. I’m sure you don’t have men staring at your chest at work, when you’re trying to be taken seriously. You don’t have that problem. As for me, na only my breasts and yansh they go dey look!”
Tired of the conversation, I start browsing through the racks, looking for something for myself.
“What about this?” Onyeka says, pulling out a modest long-sleeved chiffon top. “Beautiful and classy, just like you. And age appropriate too.”
Age appropriate? Really?
I smile stiffly and shake my head. “Not quite my style.”
In the end, I don’t buy anything. I have a closet full of clothes still with their tags, so do not really need to do any shopping. But as we make our way through the other stores, for her to buy shoes and accessories, I make up my mind to follow them for tonight’s club hopping, even if it is just for her to see that I’m not a dry wallflower and can be sexual as well.
We make our way further downtown, and as we walk down W20th street, she stares longingly at Kleinfeld Bridal.
“I can’t wait for the day I’ll be able to finally buy my dress!” she gushes. “Can we go inside and look around?”
“You need to have an appointment for that.” I mutter, knowing one step into the bridal shop will push me completely over the edge.
“Soon and very soon!” she says, a dreamy smile on her face. “I can’t wait for when Dili and I will finally be able to get married. You’ll come back here with me, won’t you, Sis?”
I nod non-commitally, knowing fully well that there will be a higher chance of hell freezing over than me following her here to pick the wedding gown she will wed the man I love in. Nope, no way that’s going to happen.
“I really can’t wait!” she continues, even when we are in a cab on the way back home. “You’ve been so good to us, but I can’t wait for when Dili and I can finally move to our own place. My cousin in Atlanta says he can get a much better job there, so we plan to move there are soon as he gets his Green Card.”
Now this is news to me.
“What about his job here?” I ask, unable to mask the edge of irritation in my voice. “Is he going to just give up everything and move to Atlanta?”
“No now, Sis!” she giggles. “He will get something there before he leaves New York. The bottom line is that’s what we’re working towards.”
I remain silent as she continues to chatter on, and when we walk into the apartment, she announces to a surprised Dili that I will be following them for Frank’s birthday festivities after all. I can see in his eyes that this is not something he expected would happen, and it buoys me all the more to attend. Who knows? There might be a fine, eligible bachelor suitable for my almost 39-year old self.
Later that evening, I am expertly applying my makeup when Onyeka taps on my bedroom door and walks in nervously. “Hi Sis. Sorry to disturb you, but are you sure the dress isn’t too vulgar?”
“Onyeka, you’re beautiful!” I say for the umpteenth time. “If we were the same size, I would have offered you a jacket to wear over it, but the truth is you really don’t need it.”
She gapes at my walk-in closet, as if beholding the 8th wonder of the world. “If we were the same size, I wouldn’t even need to go shopping! Your closet is a designer shop on its own. Look at those shoes!” she walks closer, her mouth hanging open at my floor-to-ceiling display of shoes. “Nne, you are fashion itself! I’m sure you could go 2 years without repeating a single outfit! You don’t know how lucky you are to be so tiny. If not for the face, I’m sure I could pass for your Aunty, with this my big size!”
If not for the face. Interesting.
She picks up a pair of my shoes from the floor. “You’re a size 7? I’m sure you never have trouble finding shoes your size! Me and my size 12/13 feet are forever a problem. You saw how hard it was for me to get decent shoes today.”
“Are you and Dili ready to leave? Just give me a few minutes and I’ll be ready as well.” I say, eager to change the subject.
“You don’t have any problems at all!” she says. “I’m sure you’ll just throw on a simple blouse over one of your designer jeans, and you’ll be ready! You have no stress at all!”
I glare at the door long after she has left the room, angered by her assertion of me being on the boring and predictable end of fashionable. A simple blouse over designer jeans was actually what I’d had in mind to wear before. But now, I am all determined to show her that I too can look sexy and desirable.
A few minutes later, I step out of my bedroom in a black spandex jumpsuit that leaves very little to the imagination. With a deep cut running down the middle, it enhances and amplifies my modest breasts, and also gives me a round and pert derriere. Sky-high red stilettos complete my look, and I know that modest, decent and boring are not words that could ever be used to describe me tonight.
I can hear Onyeka going crazy and hailing me over my transformation, but my attention isn’t on her…but on her fiancé whose eyes remain fixed on me. And it gives me a lot of satisfaction.
The three of us head over to the popular 40/40 Club, where we meet up with the rest of Dili’s friends, including the birthday boy, Francis. Nnamdi and Azuka anren’t there, and I am grateful for that. Typical Naija style, we soon settle in the VIP section, and the boys are soon popping champagne like it’s going out of fashion. I am getting a lot of compliments about my look, and this only serves to embolden me further.
“Dance with me.” I say, pulling Dili to his feet and leading him to the dance floor.
Rihanna and Drake’s Work is playing and as we dance, I see in his eyes the same Dilly who could not keep his hands off me…the one I used to make sweet love to from sun up to sun down…and I find myself suddenly determined to fight for him.
I move closer to him as we dance, so close there isn’t even space for a whiff of air to pass through. I cross my hands behind his neck as I twist my hips around his own, and I am pleased to feel his own arousal. I lean forward such that our foreheads are touching, and as we look at each other, it is like we are alone in my apartment as lovebirds all over again…it is like we are loved up in the Maldives all over again. He belongs to me and I am not letting him go without a fight.
I look over in Onyeka’s direction, and I see her watching us, a frown on her face. This only propels me further and I run my hands all over Dili’s chest and place his own hands firmly on my bottom, my hips still swirling erotically against him. Dili, who seems to be in some sort of trance, is unable to break away from my grip as our raunchy dance continues. It isn’t until Onyeka suddenly storms out of the club that he recovers himself and quickly pulls away from me and chases after her.
Luckily, the other members of our party have not noticed what happened, or are pretending not to have noticed, as they continue dancing and merrymaking. Not wanting to chase after Dili while he is chasing after Onyeka, I proceed to have another drink and continue dancing. But even as I dance and give off the impression of being carefree, deep inside my heart is burdened. All I want to do is go home and talk some sense into Dili’s head. Surely he can see that we still have magic. How can he want to give it all up? How can he want to give us up?
After about 30 minutes, I also leave the club and hail a cab to take me back home. Getting to the apartment, I see Dili sitting solemnly in the kitchen. He doesn’t even look up when I walk in. I stand silently at the kitchen door for a few minutes, watching him.
“Where is Onyeka?” I ask.
“She’s locked herself in the bedroom.” Dili answers, rubbing his temple.
I pull out my phone and set John Legend’s Ordinary People to play.
“Remember this song, Dili?” I ask him. “Remember you sang this song to me at Nnamdi and Azuka’s Christmas party, only a few short months ago?”
He sighs deeply. “Ezioma…”
“’Girl I’m in love with you’? ‘We’re right in the thick of love’? ‘And though love sometimes hurts, I still put you first and we’ll make this thing work, but I think maybe we should take it slow’?” I remind him of some of the lyrics. “If you don’t love me, why did you sing me that song? If we’re not meant to be together, why did you sing it to me, trying to win me back?!”
“Ezi, it’s not as easy as that!” a deflated Dili responds.
“Tell me you love her like you love me! Tell me what you have with her is even a fraction as good as what you had with me!” I demand, getting more frantic.
“Yes na, Okwudili.” comes Onyeka’s voice. “Why don’t you tell her?!”
Dili’s head pops up at the sound of her voice, but she has already retreated back in the direction of their room. He looks at me, his face a mix of frustration and anger, before he chases after her.
And I finally have my answer.
I return to my bedroom and just sit on the bed, trying to process all that has happened that evening…trying to process how Dili could go from desiring me one minute to chasing after Onyeka the next.
I am still sitting in that position when my door opens and Onyeka walks in. I sit up straight, not knowing or trusting her motive for being in my bedroom…especially not after all that has happened.
“When I was in your room earlier tonight and you sprayed your perfume, I was wondering why it was such a familiar smell to me.” she says, her voice calm and steady. “It wasn’t until I got back to the house from the club tonight that I realised that’s the smell that’s all over Dili’s bedroom; his clothes, his sheets, his furniture. Everywhere in that room is your smell.” she laughs and shakes her head. “You know, my friends in Nigeria warned me. They told me there was no way Dili wasn’t having a sexual relationship with you…a woman who ‘married’ him and whom he’s been living with for two years. But I told them it could never be…and it wasn’t because I trust him. I just didn’t think you were the type he would go for. Physically, he would never have looked at your type when he was in Nigeria. It just goes to show that men will always be men and no matter how wonderful a meal is placed in front of them, sometimes they will still want to snack on dry, old suya!”
I smile at the dig, and choose not to say anything in response.
“No wonder you dressed like this tonight. In your mind, you were hoping to continue from where you stopped, okwiya? Don’t you even have any shame? At your age? A man you are even older than?!”
“Only by a few months.” I answer, looking at her brazenly. “And yes, I have no shame. I’m not ashamed to admit that what Dili and I had was beautiful. I’m the reason he stopped paying you any attention earlier this year. That was me. So I guess he must like his ‘dry, old suya’!”
Onyeka laughs and claps her hands. “Ọ bụrụ na agwọ adịghị egosi anụ ya, ụmụ ntakịrị ga-eji ya na ịkụ nkụ. If a snake fails to show its venom, little kids will use it in tying firewood. Nne, you must think me a pushover. I might be young in age, but if you think I’m going to cross my arms and hand you a man I have loved for almost a decade, ị bụ egwuregwu oh! You’re a real joker!” she laughs again, but there is little humour in her laughter. “If Dili wants you so much, why has he been on his knees since we got back from the club, begging me? Why?”
This time, I look away, unable to maintain eye contact lest she sees the hurt in my own eyes from the realization that, again, Dili has chosen her.
“Nne, you’ve done enough for us o! You’ve tried. But it ends tonight.” she continues. “First thing tomorrow morning, Dili and I will be out of your house. And I’m going to make sure you get divorce papers latest within the week. Enough is enough, biko. You don try!”
“Dili and I can’t get divorced until his permanent card comes out.” I mutter in response.
“That one is trash! I’ve been speaking with my people in Atlanta, and they say there are ways around it.” She snaps. “Thank you for housing us, Sister Ezioma. We are grateful for everything.” With that, she turns and leaves the room.
And it feels like I have been doused with a bucket of cold water.
About an hour afterwards, Dili himself comes into the room.
“Ezioma….” he calls out.
I look at him, finally fully and truly deflated, and with no words in response.
“Ezioma, why did you have to behave the way you did tonight? We were all doing just fine…” Dili asks, equally deflated.
“Onyeka says you’re leaving in the morning. Is it true?” I ask, finally finding my voice.
He nods. “She insists we will not spend another night here. She’d leave tonight if she could.”
“Where are you guys going to go?”
He shrugs. “A hotel, maybe. But we’ll have to get an apartment soon.”
“And the divorce? She says you’ll be sending papers soon.”
This time he sighs. “I’ve already told her that might take a little while.”
I nod, and we remain there in silence, me sitting on my bed and him standing ackwardly at my door, neither of us knowing what to say.
“I didn’t want it to end this way.” he finally says. “You’ve been so wonderful to me, Ezioma. I really didn’t want it to end this way.”
“I just want to know something…” I ask. “All that time we spent together…did none of it mean anything to you?”
Our eyes lock and I see him struggling for words. “I will always cherish the time we had together, Ezioma…”
“But we always knew we didn’t have forever.” he continues, now unable to maintain eye contact. “I’d already made a promise to Onyeka…we both knew that.”
I smile sadly and nod. “I guess we did. So…I guess this is where we say goodbye and good luck, right?”
He makes as if to walk closer to me, but decides against it. “Thanks for everything, Ezioma.”
I give him a thumbs up sign and then he walks out of my bedroom…and out of my life.
Unable to stand the thought of tossing and turning all night, I take a sedative and soon fall into a deep and dreamless sleep. By the time my eyes finally open, the sun is shining bright and I see that it is almost mid-day.
I rise to my feet and walk into his bedroom…and the emptiness is like a slap in the face. I open the closets and see that all his clothes are gone. His books are gone from the shelf and his New York Yankees cap is no longer hanging on the door.
I hold the door to steady myself, the impact of the finality of it all hitting me hard. He is really gone. Dili is really gone. It is finally well and truly over.
I walk like a zombie to the living room, to my workstation, thinking that maybe the pain will go away if I can write it all down. Maybe writing about it will be a form of release for me. I select Linger by The Cranberries, and try to put my emotions into words.
Linger (The Cranberries) – June 06, 2016
If you, if you could return
Don’t let it burn
Don’t let it fade
I’m sure I’m not being rude
But it’s just your attitude
It’s tearing me apart
It’s ruining every day
I swore I would be true
And fellow, so did you
So why were you holding her hand?
Is that the way we stand?
Were you lying all the time?
Was it just a game to you?
But I’m in so deep
You know I’m such a fool for you
You’ve got me wrapped around your finger
Do you have to let it linger?
Do you have to, do you have to, do have to let it linger?
But rather than help me write, the song only breaks me down further, and I am soon sobbing like a baby. I rush back to his empty bedroom and collapse by his bed, weeping all over his pillows, drinking his familiar scent. My heart is broken in a way I could never even have fathomed…in a way I could never even have prepared for.
Oh, I thought the world of you
I thought nothing could go wrong
But I was wrong, I was wrong
If you, if you could get by
Trying not to lie
Things wouldn’t be so confused
And I wouldn’t feel so used
But you always really knew
I just want to be with you
And I’m in so deep
You know I’m such a fool for you
You’ve got me wrapped around your finger
Do have to let it linger?
Do you have to, do you have to, do have to let it linger?
I remain in the kneeling position, crying into his pillow as day eventually turns to night.
I have lost everything.
Catch up on Ezioma’s story here:
- A Love of Convenience! 1: Handbags & Gladrags
- A Love of Convenience! 2: There she goes
- A Love of Convenience! 3: The day will surely come
- A Love of Convenience! 4: Russian Farmer’s Song
- A Love of Convenience! 5: Moonlighting Strangers
- A Love of Convenience! 6: Knocks me off my feet
- A Love of Convenience! 7: A simple kind of life
- A Love of Convenience! 8: I can’t help it
- A Love of Convenience! 9: Edge of desire
- A Love of Convenience! 10: The Fear
- A Love of Convenience! 11: Ordinary People
- A Love of Convenience! 12: Me and Mrs. Jones
- A Love of Convenience! 13: You could be happy