A Love of Convenience! 4: Russian Farmer’s Song

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In the three weeks that follow, Dili and I proceed to share our ‘news’ with our friends and family. As my family consists only of my sister Ebere and brother Enyinna, they are the only two I bother to call. Enyinna being the pragmatic person he is, seems satisfied when I explain it is only a temporary measure to help out our old family friend, and doesn’t even dwell on it beyond the few questions he asks. Ebere is another case entirely.

“Okwudili!” she exclaims when I tell her. “What kind of blast from the past is that? The last I heard of him, he was forming big boy in FUTO. When did he go to America? How did you two even jam? And you want to marry him? Hei hei! This one na serious sometin!

“It’s just temporary, Madam!” I answer, my irritation rising. “It’s just to help him with his papers, that’s all.”

I bụ onye nzuzu! You’re so foolish! Is it a fake marriage or a real marriage? Won’t you two have to divorce at the end of it all?!” she retorts. “So at your age, you want to have a failed marriage under your belt. You don’t want to learn from me. As if you don’t remember how tough it was for Chinedu’s people to accept me. Yet you want open your two eyes and enter fire! Ichọrọ ịbanye n’ime ọkụ! And he is not even paying you! Chai! Ezioma, when did you become so foolish?!”

I choose not to take offence by her outburst as I realise she feels so strongly about it because of her own bad experience. Having married her University sweetheart immediately after graduation, they had relocated to Germany where he’d proceeded to turn her into a punching bag. She’d suffered years of domestic violence before any of us got to know about it. Despite all our entreaties for her to leave him, she chose to remain with her violent husband. The marriage finally came to a dramatic end when he beat her up to the point that their neighbours had to call the Police. That had marked the end of the marriage, and after floating from one women’s shelter to the other, Ebere had made the painful decision to return to Nigeria. Luckily, their 5 years together had produced no children, so she only had herself to worry about. But at just 27 years of age, we’d all been devastated that she’d already had to go through so much at such a young age. But as fate would have it, she’d been barely been back in Nigeria when she started receiving attention from a young doctor, Chinedu, who was based in London but was in Nigeria for his father’s funeral. He’d taken one look at Ebere as she walked down the road, and decided she was the one for him. Ebere, on the other hand, was still smarting from the disappointment of her failed marriage and had rebuffed him for months. It wasn’t until almost 2 years of serious wooing that she’d finally given in to his advances. But that was only the first hurdle, as Chinedu’s family had vehemently opposed the idea of their beloved son marrying not only a divorcee, but one who hadn’t been able to give her last husband any children. The battle with his family had lasted almost another year, until he’d given them an ultimatum; accept Ebere as his wife or cease to be a part of his life…because he was going to marry her whether they liked it or not. They’d had no choice but to agree and he and Ebere had married a few months after her 30th birthday, following which she went on to have three children in the space of four years, her youngest son just having turned a year old.

“Ebere, relax. Nothing is going to happen to me. It’s the least I could do for Dili. Remember, he’s like family to us.”

Okay o!” she reluctantly concedes. “As long as you’re sure.”

Dili, lucky for him, doesn’t have it quite as hard. His mother and siblings are happy he’s been able to find a solution to his residency problems, and they are happier still when they realised it isn’t a random stranger he was marrying, but one they know pretty well.

“And Onyeka?” I ask him, as we sit across from each other at a small diner a few blocks from my apartment. “Have you told her?”

He nods. “She was the first person I told, even before my mom. At first, she was glad that I’ve found someone to help. But when she heard it’s a Nigerian, I could tell she was worried about that. It wasn’t until I told her how far back we go, how you’re like a sister to me, and  even went as far as showing her some of your pictures, that she finally relaxed.”

I can’t help but chuckle. “Oh, she relaxed when she saw I’m not your usual spec of tall and light skinned, abi?”

“Don’t be silly, Ezi.” Dili chuckles back, but we both know I’ve hit the nail on the head.

“Don’t forget how long I’ve known you, Okwudili. I remember how you wanted to kill yourself on top Ebere’s matter that time.” I tease him.

He smiles nostalgically. “Ebere! I was in love with your sister back in the day, but she didn’t even send me at all. How is she? Is she still in Germany? I heard she and her husband moved there.”

My hiss is long and intense. “You know Ejiofor?!”

“Not really. The guy was a notorious cult member at UNN, and he was known across all higher institutions in the East. I remember being surprised that a girl as gentle and sweet as Ebere was dating someone like that. I was even more surprised when I heard she went on to marry him.”

I hiss again and fill him in on the violence and abuse Ebere had to endure in the hands of the beast called Ejiofor. “But before you get too excited and start nursing any ideas, she’s remarried now and has three beautiful sons!”

“Me nursing ideas? You’re just a case, Ezioma!” Dili says, shaking his head. “What about Uchechi? How is she doing?”

The smile on my face fades. “We lost Uchechi about seven years ago. Breast cancer.”

The sadness on Dili’s face is so sincere, I have to look away to prevent myself from sinking into the depression remembering my youngest sister’s death usually causes.

“I’m so sorry, Ezi. I didn’t know.” Dili says regretfully.

I shrug and smile. “It’s one of those things. It’s just me, Ebere and Enyinna now.”

Dili’s eyes widen. “Don’t tell me your Mom…”

“Okwudili, come on! My mom died three years after dad did! It will be 10 years next year!”

“I heard about your Dad’s death, but I didn’t know your Mom had passed as well. I don’t even think my Mom knows because she would have mentioned it if she did.”

“Breast cancer. Just like Uchechi.” I shrug again. “It sucks, yes. But that’s life for you, isn’t it. Ebere and I know we’re high risk, so we make sure we have regular mammograms and checks.” I hit him playfully on the arm, desperate to change the topic. “So you only like tall, yellow babes okwiya?”

Dilly throws his head back in a throaty laughter, this time not bothering to deny it. He tells me all about the girl he dated all through his University days, Uloma, who had been so beautiful, she’d actually been a Runner Up in the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria competition in 1997. As he talks about how broken he was after she’d left him, I realize that I am fooling myself thinking Dili will ever be attracted to me…not when every woman he has ever been involved with has been drop dead gorgeous.

As we talk, it is soon my turn to tell him all about my dating history and I tell him all about Eze, Seth, and my several casual relationships in between.

“I just knew you’re the kind of girl who only dates white guys!” he exclaims. “You mean you were actually engaged to one?”

“We were together for 7 years and engaged for 5.” I answer. “We even bought the apartment together.”

“So what happened?”

I shrug. “We grew apart I guess. He got tired of New York and decided to take up a teaching job at Duke.”

Dili nudges my shoulder with his playfully. “Are you sure that’s what happened? Or is it true about what they say about white guys in the bedroom?”

I shriek in laughter and we are both laughing hysterically, drawing angry looks from the other diners. “Of course not!” I exclaim. “I’ll have you know that it is just a big myth. Most of the white guys I have been with haven’t had any issues down there, I can promise you that!”

“If you say so!” Dili says, his eyes twinkling. “But I just don’t know how you guys do it though, you people that date white folks. The cultural differences would be too much for me. Tell me you and your ex never had any instances where your differences made things difficult!”

I smile slyly. “If I’m to be honest…food was a big, big issue! That was where our cultural differences were the most apparent. He thought my food was too spicy and, good Lord, I couldn’t stand the amount of cheese he loved to consume. Almost every time he opened his mouth, all you’d smell would be cheese!”

This sets us off again, and we are soon laughing hysterically.

“Jokes apart though, Seth was a great guy.” I say after the laughter has subsided. “He loved me deeper than anyone ever has. And by the time I found a way not to cook with too much spice, and to tolerate his insane love for cheese, we were able to live a good and happy life. Maybe if investment banking hadn’t taken such a hit during the global recession, he’d still be here. But hey, life happens and we are where we are I guess.”

Dili looks at me long and hard. “You’re a special girl, Ezi. I’m going to make it my duty and objective to make sure I find you a great guy by the time this is all over.”

I force a smile, even though this statement kills me inside. By the time we leave the diner and I get back to my apartment, I realize that I am fooling myself by thinking Dili will ever be in love with me.

In the weeks that follow, I proceed to share the news with my friends…my few close friends, consisting of a few work colleagues and a handful of friends from UPenn. The only difference being I don’t tell them it’s a sham marriage. No. Instead I concoct a story of how I ran into my childhood love on the streets of Manhattan, and after a whirlwind romance, he proposed. I tell myself I have kept the truth from them in order to protect our ruse…but the real truth is I want to be able to live that fantasy even if it is only through their eyes.

Dili and I change our respective Facebook profiles to Engaged and upload the perfunctory pictures together, as we have been advised to by our Immigration Lawyer. I have never been very active on the social media platform, so I only have to respond to the odd congratulatory message or two. Dili, on the other hand, has to deal with the uproar that arises from his own revelation and has to pacify a very distraught Onyeka, who herself has to deal with all the curious and confused questions from their mutual friends. But hey, we have to do what we have to do, right?

Three weeks later, as I lead him into the apartment with his luggage, I know that I have to be realistic. Dili and I will never be an item. He will never be attracted to a girl like me, talk less of loving me like he does his precious Onyeka. All I have gained for myself is someone to keep me company for the year it will take his Green Card to be processed.

“Wow!” he exclaims, as I lead him to the 2nd bedroom of my apartment, one that I have had specially redecorated for him, with top of the range beddings and furnishing from Pottery Barn and William Sonoma. “I’ve been rotating between sleeping on sofa beds and the floor for over a year, Ezi. I can’t believe you’re actually offering me all this.”

I smile at him. “How can I have such a big apartment and not help a friend in need? You’re free to call this home for as long as you like!”

“How will I ever repay you, Ezi?” he asks, his eyes glistening with tears.

“You are too emotional for my liking oh, Okwudili!” I tease him. “Every small thing na cry! Na wa for you oh!

“If you knew all what I’ve suffered in the last year…heck in the last decade, you’ll understand why this means so much.” is his own sage reply.

“Whatever, son!” I tease. “Just unpack quickly, so we can go out and grab dinner. It’s our wedding day, remember?”

He nods and smiles, just as I shut the door. Once the door is closed, I exhale deeply. Yep, it’s going to take everything in me to keep my feelings all nice and casual. But I know I have no choice.

That weekend, we go to Long Beach for our fake honeymoon. Our Immigration Lawyer has insisted that having honeymoon pictures will help make our case more believable, so off we go, first thing Saturday morning. As soon as we get there, we hit the beach and take several pictures we hope will be convincing enough. We also have a ‘romantic’ candlelit dinner afterwards, taking several pictures as well.

But all the time we are together, both on the beach and in the restaurant, I see several women checking him out…and probably wondering what a handsome guy like that is doing with a woman like me.

By the time we retire to our suite, I am not just mentally drained from all the forced picture taking of the day…but emotionally as well. I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep up this charade after all.

The suite has 2 bedrooms, with a connecting lounge. When Dili retires to his room, I sit on the couch in the lounge, prop open my laptop and pop in the one song I know that captures just how I am feeling now; Russian Farmer’s Song by Keane.

I close my eyes and drink in the lyrics of the song, which never seemed more apt than they do now.

Russian Farmer’s Song (Keane) – May 17, 2014

…You were signalling with your hands
Going, going out of my way
You’re out of my way
Where you’re banging on hollow land
A hunter-gatherer and
Blowing, blowing out of the rain
In out of the rain

What do you do when the love you want is simply out of your way…blowing out of the rain?

 

“What are you doing?” comes Dili’s voice, startling me. “And what are you listening to?”

“Oga, you frightened me!” I say, trying to compose myself as I shut my laptop. “I’m writing my article. I told you I write for the Manhattan Buzz, didn’t I?”

Dili sits on one of the chairs in the lounge, his interest piqued. “You didn’t. That’s amazing! So you’re an investment banker by day, and a writer by night…impressive!”

I shrug non-commitally. “It’s an additional source of income, no big deal.”

“What do you write about?”

“I write about the soundtrack of my day!” I say, smiling. “I basically write about how my day is perfectly captured by a song.”

“Really? I’d never have thought you were the musical type!”

“That just shows how little you know of me, Okwudili Dike.” I say, with a sly smile. “I’ve always been musical…and this article is the perfect outlet for me after every single day…be it a good or bad one, happy or sad one.”

He nods. “Interesting. You’re full of surprises, young lady.” he cocks his head to the side and listens to the song playing. “And this is the soundtrack for today? What song is this sef?”

I look at him incredulously. “You don’t know Keane? This is one of their most popular songs…and one of my favourites of all time!”

He laughs and shakes his head. “You’re just a white girl, Ezi! I’ve never heard it in my life.” he rises to his feet. “Don’t let me interrupt you. Carry on your writing, my lovely wife!”

I watch him as he disappears back into his room, his words enveloping me like a much needed embrace.

My lovely wife.

If only he knew how true I wish those words were.

…You were signalling with your hands
Going, going out of my way
You’re out of my way
Where you’re banging on hollow land
A hunter-gatherer and
Blowing, blowing out of the rain
In out of the rain

Definitely out of my way. Definitely blowing out of the rain.

 

 

 

Catch up on Ezioma’s story here:

  1. A Love of Convenience! 1: Handbags & Gladrags
  2. A Love of Convenience! 2: There she goes
  3. A Love of Convenience! 3: The day will surely come

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