I toss and turn in bed, unable to get Dili out of my mind…or more truthfully, unable to shake off the wild idea I am nursing.
But I simply can’t.
I have been an American citizen since 2008 and I know I am probably the best option Dili has to remain in the United States legally. I also have a large 2-bedroom apartment, which could also help solve his accommodation problems. The more I think about it, the better of an idea it seems to me.
But there is just one catch. I don’t have his phone number.
In our haste and excitement, I’d given him my details but forgotten to get his. As the days go by, I am filled with panic over the thought of him never getting in touch. I worry about him losing my card or, worse, deciding not to call at all.
“What exactly is your deal, Ezioma?” I mutter to myself, when the fifth day after our chance encounter is about to roll to an end. “What’s your own with Dili anyway?! Why do you care? If he doesn’t call and he ends up getting deported, that’s his problem not yours!”
But as much as I try to convince myself of my indifference, it still remains pretty much all I think of.
And then a little over a week after the day we met, as I sit on my sofa watching Frasier re-runs, he finally calls.
“Hi Ezioma.” comes his tentative voice. “I didn’t want to disturb you during the week. I know how late you investment bankers work.”
I can feel my heart literally flutter out of my chest and am amazed that his voice still has the same effect on me, 20 years later. “I was beginning to wonder if you lost my card!”
“Are you kidding? I’ve been guarding your card like the prized item it is!” he laughs in return.
“So how did it go with the guy you went to see? The cab guy.”
He sighs. “Not great. It turns out I don’t have the right kind of license I need to drive. Mehn Ezi, at this point I’ve run out of ideas. I’m beginning to think it might be best for me to just go back to Nigeria, instead of waiting for them to deport me!”
I sit up, knowing the time has come for me to do what I have to do. “Can you make it over to Manhattan tonight? For dinner? My treat.”
“You know that’s the best thing I’ve heard all week long! Maybe it’ll be the last time we see before my ass is hauled back to Naija!”
I smile. “How about we meet at Gallagher’s Steak House at 7pm? It’s on 52nd Street. You think you can find it?”
“7pm sounds perfect and I most surely can!” is his gleeful answer.
I quickly get off the phone as I see I have barely 2 hours, which is just about all the time I’ll need to get myself ready. As I primp and prep myself, a tiny thought in my head wonders why I am going through all this effort. From the doe-eyed, love struck look on his face when he spoke about his fiancée, Onyeka, it is pretty clear that Dili only has eyes for her. But another naughty voice in my head urges me on. He’s engaged to her…and not married.
And if all goes well, I’ll be the one he’ll be married to soon.
By the time I leave my apartment at exactly 6:53pm, I know I look the business. I might not have the same pretty face as Onyeka, but I know there is absolutely no way she can compete with me when it comes to style and presence.
Gliding into the informal steakhouse, I smile when I see Dili already seated there. His face lights up when he sees me, and he rises to his feet, waving. I chose this location on purpose, as it is informal enough for him not to feel uncomfortable. Some of the restaurants I tend to frequent are also favoured by celebrities and the New York elite, and the last thing I want is for Dili to feel out of place.
How ironic though! Here I am worrying about Dili, Chief Dike’s son, feeling out of place. I am saddened by how much the tables have turned.
“Ezioma, you look amazing!” Dili gushes. “You’ve really blossomed with age.”
“Is that code for I was ugly as a kid?” I tease.
“Of course not. You were also…cute then.”
“God hates liars, Okwudili!” I laugh, hitting him playfully on his arm. This relaxes him, and we are soon laughing and bantering about old times.
We are midway through our meal when I decide to ask him the million dollar question. “Have you ever considered getting married to a citizen? You know that would help you, right? Or is Onyeka opposed to the idea?”
“I actually tried that in California.” he answers, his eyes clouding over. “My friends introduced me to this girl who was supposed to help me. We agreed I’d pay her $5,000. I didn’t have the money, so I had to give her a down-payment of $1,000 whilst I hustled for the rest. Will you believe that when I was finally able to put the money together, she denied that it was $5,000 we agreed on and was now asking for 8 grand! I didn’t have it, and that was the end of that. She even refused to refund my $1,000.”
“So why didn’t you get someone else then?” I ask.
He shrugs. “Before I knew it, I’d already blown the $4,000 I’d saved and I had no money to even start that discussion again.”
We quietly eat our meal for a few more moments, before I finally decide to go for it. “I could do it for you.”
He looks at me, bewildered. “You could do what?”
I shrug, trying my best to look casual. “I’m an American citizen. We could get married, so you can get your Green Card.”
His eyes widen in amazement. “Are you serious?!”
“And I won’t charge you, don’t worry.” I laugh, trying not to let him sense my own nerves. “I’ve been speaking with a friend of mine who’s an Immigration Attorney, and she told me that with proof of a valid marriage, all we have to do is sign some paperwork, send in the required applications and you might be able to get your Green Card in less than a year.”
“Ezioma, you would do that for me?!” he asks, his eyes glistening with tears.
“Oh come on, Dili! Why are you getting emotional?” I tease, trying not to cry myself. “We’re as good as family. And I know you’d do it for me if the tables were turned.”
He suddenly reaches over the table and pulls me into a tight hug. “Thank you so much, Ezioma! Thank you!”
As we hug, I shut my eyes as I inhale his scent, savouring the mix of his natural fragrance and a mild cologne. It takes everything in me to detach from the hug and give him the most casual smile I can.
We spend the rest of the evening talking about the logistics. He gets emotional again by my offer for him to move into my apartment, and I grill him on how he intends to break the news to Onyeka.
“That won’t be a problem at all.” he says confidently. “She knows that’s the quickest way for me to get my papers here. She was aware of the whole saga in California, and I know she’ll be glad when she finds out someone as good as my sister has offered to step in. Heck, even some of her married friends have had to ‘divorce’ so that they can marry American citizens.”
“Then they remarry after they get their papers?” I exclaim, shocked by what I am hearing.
“I kid you not. I know several couples who’ve had to do that!” he answers. “So, Onyeka won’t be a problem at all.”
We finally leave the restaurant at about 10pm, and agree to meet at the Immigration Lawyer’s office the following Monday. Michelle has been a good friend of mine since UPenn, and I know she will be discreet.
Taking advantage of my lunch break, I leave for Michelle’s office a few blocks away from mine. Dili is already there, and we are soon seated before my friend who proceeds to confirm most of what I have already told him. Once we can show that we are legally married, we can commence the process of filling the necessary paper work.
“However,” she stresses, “There might be need to show proof of your union. This could be by way of joint financial bank statements, joint ownership of property, a lease showing joint tenancy…something like that.”
“And pictures. Lots of pictures. Pictures that can give some credence to your claim of a relationship.” Michelle continues. “And if your online or social media footprint is also reflective of the relationship, then all the better.”
By the time we leave the office, we are both mentally exhausted.
“It’s a lot of paperwork!” Dili remarks.
“That won’t be a problem.” I answer. “What could be the problem is the social media stuff.” I’d actually hoped this was something we could do quietly, but by going social media public, that would mean both our families finding out about it.
“I know right! I’m not sure Onyeka is going to like that part of it. We have a lot of mutual friends on Facebook.” he remarks.
This statement irritates me and I shrug. “If you don’t think she’ll be cool with it…”
“No, she’ll be cool. She has no choice but to be cool!” Dili says, almost in desperation. “Or is it something that could hurt you? Maybe your…your boyfriend might not like it?”
I give him a sly look, wondering if he is genuinely unsure or just trying to fish for information. “I’m not answerable to anyone, Dili. I just don’t want us to get your girlfriend all frantic and frustrated back in Nigeria.”
“If this is what it takes, then it is what it takes.” he answers, looking me square in the eye. “You’re doing a wonderful thing for me, Ezi. God knows you don’t have to but here you are, doing it anyway! I will never be able to repay you, not even if I tried!”
I can’t help but smile at the sincerity in his face. While it might have been an offer I made lightly, this has turned into a lifeline for him.
“We’re family! I know you’d do the same for me.” I say, punching him playfully.
I opt not to return to the office and instead take him to my apartment to show him where he’ll be living. He gapes at the place like it is a palace, and I can’t blame him. I know he stays with his friend in Queens, and I also know that there is a huge difference between neighbourhoods on that side of town and mine.
We part agreeing to first of all share the news with our families, before going social media public with it. We also agree to spend the weekend together, taking as many ‘loved-up’ pictures as we can.
Sitting in front of my laptop that evening, I think about events of the last 72 hours, and it hits me for the first time how much our lives are about to change. Yes, this might just be a sham marriage and a means to an end…but it will forever be on record that we were once married.
And I can’t help but wish it were all under different circumstances.
The Day Will Surely Come (Lighthouse Family) – April 28, 2014
Wishing we could choose our own landscape
Wishing me and you could just go anywhere we wanted
Once in a blue moon we’d stay out late
And watch the sun come up at five-thirty in the morning
Oh yeah, once in a blue moon
Day will surely come, one day I’ll be with you
The day will surely come, we will make it all come true
The day will surely come
Wouldn’t it be easier if we could write by ourselves the script for our lives? We are in control of the basic things like where we go…and what we do…and what eat…and what we wear…
But wouldn’t it be perfect if we could plot our wider destinies? We can control who we fall in love with…but wouldn’t it be so much better if we could also control who falls in love with us?
But maybe we can….
Maybe we can control who will love us. Maybe we can work it all out in such a way that we can sit back and be confident that the day will surely come when that will happen.
I stare blankly out of my window, my heart on the other side of town. I think about Dili, probably talking to his Onyeka at that very moment despite the time difference, and I wonder…I just wonder if that day will ever come.
Catch up on Ezioma’s story here: