I make my way to the living room early the next morning, where I find Dili asleep on the couch. The TV is still on, and I know he must have slept off accidentally. Even with all my doubts and reservations about him, I know there is no way he would have deliberately stayed away.
“Wake up.” I say, tapping his foot lightly.
His eyes open and just like I guessed, he seems surprised to find himself lying on the couch. “I must have fallen asleep watching TV. How are you this morning? Are you feeling better than you did yesterday?”
“You have to leave.” I answer, keeping my voice even. “I think it’s time for you to go, Okwudili.”
He sits up and looks at me like I’ve gone crazy. “Why on earth would I leave without you? We have just one more month before your doctor discharges you…”
“Dili, let’s stop all this pretence!” I snap. “We both know the real reason you’re here. You feel guilty about the way you treated me last year. You feel indebted to me for giving you the ‘American Dream’ and clearly feel the need to repay me. That’s the true reason you’ve been doing all this.”
He is shell-shocked and speechless for moments, clearly lost for words. “You think I’ve been here for four months because I feel…indebted to you? Are you being serious right now? I’m here because I love you, Ezioma. I’m here because you mean everything to me.” he says when he finally finds his voice.
“Oh spare me that, please!” I exclaim. “Where was this love when you left me high and dry and heartbroken in Manhattan? If Onyeka hadn’t left you for someone else, would you be there sitting down and declaring love to me?! Let’s not kid ourselves, Dili.”
He rises to his feet, shaking his head incredulously. “I don’t believe this.”
“And the last thing I want is to be hearing for the rest of my life how you gave up 4 months of your own life for me. Or how you gave up the job of a lifetime for me!” I continue to rant.
“I have never said anything like that to you, Ezioma!”
“But I’m sure you’re thinking it!” I answer. “Can you honestly tell me that you haven’t regretted giving up your dream job just for me? Can you honestly say that you haven’t wondered if you made the biggest mistake of your life by walking away from everything?!”
“Not for one single moment!” Dili answers firmly, his eye contact with mine unwavering.
I shake my head and laugh sadly. “You’re lying…and we both know that.”
“What has gotten over you, Ezioma?!” Dili asks in exasperation. “Is it still this issue with your implants? Is that the reason you’re talking crazy all of a sudden? When did we go from planning our vow renewal to…to this crazy talk?”
“I’ve always known this, Dili. From the very beginning, I’ve always known your real reason for being here. I just thought I’d be dead soon and your true motive didn’t matter.” I answer. “Anyway, Seth is on his way here as we speak. So really, you can leave now.”
“Seth? Your ex-boyfriend, Seth?!” Dili exclaims.
“I never told you Seth and I broke up. I only left when I found out I had cancer, because I didn’t want to put him through the heartbreak of watching me die!” I retort.
“So now that you’re cancer free, he’s on his way here?” Dili retorts. “Well, I have news for you both. I’m not moving an inch from here. He might still be your ‘boyfriend’, but I’m your husband. We are still legally married and I have every right to be here. So you can call the cops if you want to, but I’m not leaving this house.”
I glare at Dili, my own emotions torn. I want so badly to believe all he’s saying, and that his love for me is unconditional…even if I have to live the rest of my life with no breasts. But my fear of getting heartbroken again outweighs every other thing.
I walk away from the living room and return to the bedroom, where I immediately proceed to have a shower. Less than an hour later, Dili walks into the bedroom with my tray of breakfast. Guilt overwhelms me when I see all the trouble he has gone through to prepare my healthy, organic breakfast of almond oatmeal with fresh blackberries and flaxseed, as prescribed by my doctor.
He places the tray before me and, without saying a word, walks into the bathroom for his own shower. Afterwards, from his casual jogging pants and t-shirt, I can see he has no plans to go anywhere. Which could pose a problem as Seth is truly airborne to see me.
Last night, I told Seth about the reason why I’d left Durham…my cancer diagnosis and my desire to either heal or die in my happy place. He’d been understandably emotional and said he’d be on the first flight over to see me.
The way it is looking, Dili will still be here when he gets here.
To be honest, I have no plans of reuniting with Seth. I just figured his re-emergence in my life will be the only way Dili will agree to exit it. But right now, even that is not looking likely.
I take my tray to the kitchen before Dili has a chance to. The more he caters to and pampers me, the worse I feel. Despite his motivation, despite his driving force, there is no denying the fact that Dili has been extremely good to me. If he hadn’t shown up when he did, I am certain that I would not be alive today. He has cared for me more than any mother or sibling could, and I am not ungrateful enough not to acknowledge that fact. But cruel as this may be, it is best for both of us. How long before he starts feeling trapped by our situation? How long before the sight of his wife and her ‘flaps’ instead of breasts become a complete turn off? How long?
No, this is for the best.
I return to the bedroom and I fall asleep again, mentally and emotionally fatigued. A few hours later, I am nudged awake.
“You have a visitor.” Dili says, his eyes bloodshot and his voice pained. “I actually thought you were joking this morning. You really asked him to come?”
I sit up, realizing Seth must be here.
“Why, Ezioma?” he asks. “Why would you do this? Why would you do this to us after everything we’ve been through?”
His words take me all the way back to the previous year, the night we’d come back from the nightclub and I’d literally begged him to choose me over Onyeka.
But he hadn’t.
This memory hardens my heart and I sit up straight. “So that you would know exactly what it feels like to have someone chosen over you!” I retort. “You chose Onyeka…and now I am choosing Seth.”
“So is that what this is? Revenge?” Dili exclaims.
“Not revenge. More like karma!” I answer. “Thanks for everything you’ve done for me, Dili, but my man will take over from here.”
And I rise to my feet and walk out of the room. As I make my to the living room, I feel sick to my stomach and I have to pause in the hallway as tears pour down my face. I hold my mouth with both hands to keep from screaming aloud, hating myself for the hurtful words I have said to Dili, the only man I have ever truly loved. But as painful as this may be for both of us, it is for the best. It is for the best.
After recomposing myself, I walk into the living room with a forced smile. Seth is sitting down, looking very uncomfortable.
“Wow!” he exclaims when he sees me, rising to his feet to hug me. “I didn’t know what to expect. You look like you’ve been through a lot.”
“This isn’t the worst of it!” I laugh. “I’ve even put on a bit of weight now. Only a few weeks ago, I weighed less than 100lbs!”
Seth’s eyes widen. “I’m really sorry, Ezi. I wish I’d known earlier.” his eyes wander to the door. “You didn’t tell me your ex-husband was with you.”
“He’s been taking care of me. But he’s leaving now.” I answer stiffly, hoping he is wise enough to discern this is a topic I will not discuss further.
As we make small talk about Durham and his decision not to leave for Princeton after being made an Associate Professor, Dili walks into the living room. He is now fully dressed, and I can see his suitcases beside him. My heart falls as I realize he is truly leaving.
“Can I speak with you?” he says to Seth, who in turn looks bewildered. “I just want to talk you through administering her medication and also her meal plan.”
Seth rises to his feet, still looking confused, and walks towards Dili who then leads him to the kitchen. I can hear their voices as they discuss the timing and dosage for my drugs, and the food items I need to abstain from. When they are done, Dili walks out of the house without even saying goodbye to me. I peep through the curtains and see him board a waiting taxi. Rather than feel relieved…I feel dead inside.
“Why did you really ask me to come here, Ezi?” Seth asks.
I look at him, and I realize that he is no fool. He is an incredibly intelligent man who has figured out exactly what is going on.
“Something tells me he’s the reason you wanted me here.” Seth continues. “And I guess mission accomplished, right?”
I look away, unable to answer him.
“Did you ask me to come because you still love me? Because you want us to be a couple again?” he asks. “If the answer is yes, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves now and pick up right where your ex-husband left off. And as soon as you’re released by your doctor, we can go back to Durham and get married.”
I look at him sadly, unable to continue with this charade. “I’m sorry, Seth.”
He nods in understanding, comes over to hug me and then walks out the door, his bags in hand.
And I am left sitting there, well and truly alone.
I rise to my feet and walk to the kitchen. Luckily, Dili had handwritten the medicine and food instructions for Seth, so this will act as a guide for me as I’ve had no idea about any of these. It suddenly dawns on me how heavy my reliance on Dili was, and I am hit by a deep sadness anew.
But it is better to go through pain now, than debilitating heartbreak later. If I’d lost the zeal to live the first time Dili left me for another woman, I might not survive it the next time he does.
Brushing it off, I get into the full swing of taking care of myself once again. After all, I was doing it before Dili showed up, in even worse condition than I’m in now. At least now, my I am regaining my health and my strength is returning. Taking care of myself shouldn’t be a big deal.
I proceed to do just that for the next few days, until a shrill ring of my doorbell intimates me of the fact I have a visitor. I am shocked to see none other than my sister, Ebere.
“I swear, I would beat you black and blue if I could!” she yells just as I open the door, her eyes bloodshot and her face furious. “So it is true? You came here to die, okwiya? You had cancer and you didn’t even tell me?!”
I reach out to embrace her, and she holds me so tight it is almost like she is afraid of letting me go. The cold winter breeze soon pushes her inside the house, and as we sit beside my fireplace, she tells me that she got a call from Dili a few days ago, telling her everything and asking her to come to me immediately.
“He said he was here with you, but left when your white boyfriend showed up.” she says, her eyes scanning the living room. “Where is he? Seth abi?”
“He’s gone.” I answer, not offering any more explanation.
“Ehen! Dili was right!” she exclaims. “He said he didn’t trust the guy to hang around which is why he asked me to come to you.” she glares at me, her anger renewed. “But how could you not tell me something like this, Ezioma? Chineke, look at you! Look how wasted you’re looking! Seeing you is just like seeing Uchechi all over again. Is that how I would have lost you just like that?! Is that how I would have gotten a phone call one day, with a stranger telling me you’re dead?!”
“Ebere, I’m so sorry. I didn’t want to upset you and Enyinna.”
“Ị bụ onye ọjọọ!” she weeps. “You are very wicked, Ezioma! You just came here to this remote place to die, abi? Your plan was to leave Enyinna and I alone, abi? Ị chọrọ igbu anyị? You wanted us to die along with you”
I hold her as she cries, and we spend the rest of the day with me telling her the whole story, starting from the day I got that horrible phone call. I tell her about my decision to come here, Friday Harbor, and how tough the first few months were for me.
“I thought I was going to die.” I say to her. “In fact, the day Dili came, I’m sure I would have died right there on my doorstep!”
I shrug, trying to appear nonchalant. “He came a day after my birthday.”
“That’s since July…four months! A whole four months!” she exclaims. “I don’t understand you oh, Ezioma. Isn’t this the same Dili you have been dying for since we were kids? The same one you married under the guise of ‘helping him’, when we all knew it was because you still had deep feelings for him. That’s the same person you sent packing, after he gave up everything to look after you in sickness?!”
“I won’t accept pity love, Ebere!” I snap at my sister. “The only reason he was here was because he thought he owed it to me after what I did for him.”
“What did you do for him, biko?” Ebere demands. “You married him and he got papers. Ehen? Big deal. Ten Thousand dollars, maximum, would have gotten him the same from a stranger! If he wanted to pay you back, he could have even written you a check for 5 or 10 times that amount, from what I gather he’s now worth. Do you have any idea how much money he lost, sitting here taking care of you?”
I look away, unwilling to continue the conversation.
But Ebere isn’t done. “If you can’t remember how HARD it was taking care of Uchechi, I sure do! And that was when it was even three of us doing it oh. Dili was the only one taking care of you…cleaning your shit and vomit, feeding you, massaging you…and you say he was doing it because he felt he had to? Nne, he didn’t have to do nada for you oh! He could have simply called me back then in July and zapped, the way most guys would have. The only reason he did all that is out of love for you. Surely, you’re not too blind to see it.”
“But look at me now, Ebere!” I yell at my sister, ripping open my shirt and exposing my scars. “Look at me now. You think he can love me like this? A woman with no breasts? You think he will stay faithful to me forever when the sight of me will be off-putting to him?!”
Ebere stares at me long and hard before shaking her head. “Ezioma, you mean this spirit of low self-esteem is still pursuing you like this? You mean you haven’t changed after all these years?!” she says, her voice sad. “Right from when we were kids, you were always crying and complaining about how you were not the ‘pretty’ one in the house, always failing to remember that you were the one our parents would boast about constantly. I don’t remember Daddy ever bragging about ‘Ebere, his beautiful daughter’. It was always all about you, but even then you were too blind to see it. Not even when you were the only one out of all of us to smell an American University did you recognize how special you are.” she shakes her head again. “My dear, if you can’t understand that it is possible for a man to love you just for you, then I don’t know what to say to you. If I were to be disfigured by acid burns all over my body, and my arms, legs and even breasts were to be chopped off today, I know Chinedu would still love me. Because what we have has gone deeper than ‘fine boy, fine girl.’ I thought you’d be wise enough to realise that by now!”
At this point, I break down crying. “I can’t go through that pain again, Ebere. When he left me last year…it broke me. It shattered me to my core. I won’t be able to handle it if it happens again.”
Ebere comforts me silently and thankfully says nothing more on the subject.
Later that night, when she is fast asleep, I sit awake on the sofa in my bedroom, staring into space. My heart still aches from how badly I treated Dili…and I still long for him with every fibre of my being. But even despite Ebere’s words, I am still convinced that I have done thing…at least for me.
But that realization doesn’t stop it from hurting so, so badly.
I reach for my laptop, cue in a song, and start to write.
In My Place (Coldplay) – November 09, 2017
In my place, in my place
Were lines that I couldn’t change
I was lost, oh yeah
I was lost, I was lost
Crossed lines I shouldn’t have crossed
I was lost, oh yeah…
…I was scared, I was scared
Tired and under prepared
But I wait for it
If you go, if you go
Leave me down here on my own
Then I’ll wait for you (yeah)
Yeah how long must you wait for it?
Yeah how long must you pay for it?
Yeah how long must you wait for it?
Lost am I without you. Scared am I without you. Under prepared am I without you. But without you is what I have to be…
For both our sakes…
I stare out of the window into the beautiful horizon outside, as the moonlit night illuminates the ocean, and I know that I can’t afford to keep on mourning Dili’s absence. I have to channel all my energies into a full recover from the disease that almost claimed my life.
I just have to.
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
- A Love of Convenience! 14: Linger
- A Love of Convenience! 15: Sunday Morning
- A Love of Convenience! 16: Drive
- A Love of Convenience! 17: Bohemian Rhapsody
- A Love of Convenience! 18: Sailing
- A Love of Convenience! 19: One Last Breath
- A Love of Convenience! 20: Love is stronger than Pride
- A Love of Convenience! 21: Gravity