My comment in the article sets off an avalanche of congratulatory messages from my readers. I wake up the next morning to behold a staggering 279 comments, all expressing their joy for my ‘new’ marital status. Not only am I amazed because, even though my column is widely read, I have never exceeded 30 comments per column, I am also pleased that I write anonymously and my readers only know me as ‘Miss E.Z.’ But sitting in front of the laptop reading all their comments as I drink my morning coffee, I can’t help but feel tickled by it all. So I thank every single one of the commenters, and even tell the few that ask the same story I concocted for my friends about how Dili and I met and fell in love. Nobody can stop me from fantasising, can they?
The charade is enough to see me through the holidays, and gives me the stamina to listen to Dili’s ongoing commentary about Onyeka’s older sister’s traditional marriage going on in Umuahia. Why he would think I’d care about his lover’s sister getting married is beyond me. But my online fairy tale world gives me the strength to feign interest, and even console him when he laments about Onyeka’s parents’ growing impatience with him.
“It will soon be three years since we got engaged.” he says sadly. “And I can’t even give them an idea when we’ll be moving on to the next stage.”
“Don’t worry. You should get your Green Card before we hit the one-year mark in May, and you can fix your plans then.” I say, trying my best to sound reassuring.
By the time we enter the New Year, and all the magic of the holidays has packed its bags not to return for another year, the novelty of my online lie starts to wear thin. I have less people commenting to ask about my marriage and I am no longer as enthused about continuing to live in the land of make-believe.
But more so, with my 38th birthday looming in a matter of months, I realise that I can not continue pining for another woman’s man…not at this age. I am not a star struck teenager who, even though she knows the truth, chooses to lie to herself instead. At this age, continuing to do that would be the ultimate tragedy. I know the truth…the truth being that this man will never love me, and I might as well get with the program.
And so I let go of all my daydreams and wishes and accept the fact that Dili will only ever be a friend to me.
The months roll by with us continuing with our comfortable pattern; me working sometimes 15 hour days at work, and him continuing his own job from home. Even with him now being PMP certified, without his Green Card he still is not eligible for any other kind of legal work. But our friendship deepens in the few hours we do get to spend with each other, and we soon confide in each other our deepest secrets. I tell him all about what really went down with Seth and how badly our relationship had silently deteriorated before he made the decision to leave…and he tells me all about how his lowest point had been having to help his Mom sell off all her jewelry, including her wedding and engagement rings, when things got really bad for his family. Thankfully, with him now having a roof over his head and not having to worry about feeding, he is able to better support his mother with the little money he makes from his remote job, so that is something everyone is happy about. A few times, I have offered lending him money, but he has rejected the offer each time, saying what I am already doing for him is more than enough.
As for Madufuro, even though he is not a permanent fixture in my mind, I think of him fleetingly. As we approach the month of March, I find myself looking forward to his call to let me know he’s back in town and that we can properly pick up from where we left off. In the months since we’ve spoken, I have since checked him out online and apart from him looking so much better than I’d imagined, I find myself very impressed by all he has achieved at such a young age, garnering numerous awards and recognition for his exploits in Thoracic Surgery. In fact, I find that he is not in Berlin getting trained, but in fact on a short teaching assignment at Charité, one of the largest university hospitals in Europe.
But as the days in the month go by one by one, I realize that there is a very slim chance that Madufuro will call me after all. Yes, our initial conversation might have been oh-so-exciting, but so much could have happened in the 5 months since then. He could have met another girl and decided I’m not worth his time anymore. By the time March is officially over, and I change my calendar to April, I accept that Madufuro and I will never have that reconnection, and so I condemn him to my box of DOA coulda-been relationships.
Whilst I can’t say I really grieve the end of the daydream of whatever could have been between Madufuro and I, I do find myself slipping into a kind of depression I don’t understand. I suddenly find myself worrying that I will never find that special person…that I will never get married…and that I will be alone for the rest of my life. Not even after breaking up with Seth did I feel this kind of emptiness inside. It is worsened when Mia’s longtime boyfriend finally proposes to her. As she gushes in excitement about how romantic the proposal was, even though I am squealing and being all excited on the outside, on the inside I am dying with envy. How wonderful it would be to have the love of the man you love! But whilst she is happily about to begin a life of love with the man of her dreams, I am living in a charade with mine. Alas, as she is one of those who thinks Dili and I are the real deal, I have to keep up the pretense, act all happy for her, and even accept to be her Maid of Honour for her summer wedding.
The final nail in the coffin comes when I get the call from Uju, the person I have been friends with the longest since I got to America. We bonded as fellow Nigerian Undergrads in UPenn, and we have bonded even more as she also hasn’t quite towed the typical line of getting married to the first Nigerian boy she sees. Instead, she has also been climbing the career ladder in Atlanta where she now lives, and whenever she’s in my town, or I’m in hers, we catch up over drinks, laughing at our other friends who no longer have the luxury of freedom like we do.
“Can you imagine she actually came to the club with her baby’s diaper bag?!” she once giggled over a mutual friend of ours who had insisted on carrying her child’s supplies when they went on a night out, so that she wouldn’t have to stop over at home before heading to the babysitter’s house to pick her daughter. “If that’s what having kids does to your brain, biko count me out!”
So even though most of our friends have been getting and procreating, and even though Uju, like all my other friends, thinks I married for love, I have always held on to the comfort of knowing I’m not the only one content and happy with the kind of life I live.
Until that beautiful day in April when she called to tell me that she is not only pregnant, her boyfriend (an Igbo guy for that matter) has just proposed, and the wedding will be in Nigeria in December.
“By then, I for don born this baby!” she says, her voice high pitched in excitement. “You and your hubby better buy your tickets now oh. I no go hear story!”
I have to go through the motions of giving her my heartfelt congratulations and talking about the pros and cons of your typical Nigerian wedding, but as soon as I get off the phone, it feels like I have just been hit with a sledge hammer. Uju is not only getting married…she is also having a baby!
And I am here, still single to stupor!
I continue to live my life as normal, putting on a fake happy face to mask the growing depression I feel everyday. From the minute I open my eyes in the morning to when I close them at night, I can feel the loneliness and despondence so heavy, it is almost like it is lying in bed right next to me.
Thankfully, at the end of April, we get the call we have been waiting for, for almost a year, from Michelle. Dili’s Green Card has been approved.
“It’s a CR1 Green Card though.” she says, when we meet with her the next day. “Meaning it’s a conditional one…mainly because you have been married for less than two years. You should qualify for an IR1, a permanent Green Card, when you hit your 2-year anniversary, or, worst case, two years after the issue of the CR1, meaning 2 years from today.”
I steal a look at Dili, wondering how he is taking the news of us having to continue our arrangement for anything between another year to even two more, but he is as excited as ever.
“Can I work with the CR1? Can I travel?” he asks, his excitement palpable.
Michelle smiles in understanding. “You most surely can. Congratulations!”
Dili is a ball of energy as we return to our apartment, talking non-stop, oscillating between raving about hitting the job market a.s.a.p., travelling to Nigeria to see his beloved Onyeka, and thanking me profusely for my help.
“God bless the day I decided to come to Manhattan to see that guy!” he continues to ramble on. “God bless the day I found you, Ezioma! I know you’re an angel specially sent to me by God! God bless you!”
“You’re my brother, Dili, no need to thank me.” is my perfunctory answer.
That night, I listen to the endless phone calls he makes to Onyeka, his mother, his siblings, his friends, announcing his Green Card, albeit a conditional one. I have to smile through him celebrating through each and every phone call. But I am saddened by the finiteness of it all. This is the official beginning of the end for us. The minute he gets a good job, he just might decide to move out. If he gets a good job out of town, it won’t be a hard sell to convince Immigration that we are only living apart because of work. It hits me that the bigger tragedy isn’t that Dili will soon be leaving me…but that I will once again be well and truly alone.
At the grand old age of 38! Only two years separating me from the age of 40!
But I have to put on my happy face…which is what I do for the next few weeks…smiling through all his excited chatter and as his job foray is yielding very early results, with him getting invited for multiple interviews. By the middle of May, he has accepted an offer from a major Software company in Manhattan, with a very mouth watering salary. Two years after arriving in America, he has finally made it.
On May 15, I do not even remember that it is our 1-year anniversary. As I typically would, I leave home before he rises and soon am totally immersed in work as soon as I get to the office. My work has once again become my crutch, my means of escape, and I am burying myself with it more and more, all in a bid to forget about the emptiness that is eating me alive.
I am surprised to get a bouquet of flowers from Dili delivered to my office late morning, and can’t help but smile when I see the ‘Happy Anniversary’ inscription on the accompanying card. Anniversary indeed! Of course my colleagues ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ all over it, and, once again, I find myself with a plastered smile through it all.
“I got the flowers. Thanks.” I say, when I am able to sneak a phone call to him during my lunch break.
“You didn’t think I’d forget, did you?” is Dili’s cheerful answer. “This was the day you changed my life. And I am going to celebrate you today for it. Try to get away from work early if you can, okay?”
I smile, wondering what he has up his sleeve. “Sure.”
Unfortunately, I am not able to leave work before 8pm, but as soon as I walk into the apartment, I almost have to look at the number on my door to be sure I’m in the right place. Dili has rearranged the living room, bringing my small dining table to the middle of the room, and with a tall candle burning on a holder right in the middle of it. There are rose petals everywhere, and Tony Toni Tone’s Anniversary playing on the sound system. I didn’t expect this kind of romantic ambush at all.
“Ah! Finally, you’re home!” comes his voice from the kitchen, as he walks up to me, takes me by the hand and leads me to the table. “Have a seat, Mademoiselle. I am spoiling you tonight.”
I snigger. “So you couldn’t even take me to an expensive restaurant, it has to be home service?!” I tease. “Cheap much!”
“Home service with a difference!” he smiles, before disappearing into the kitchen and emerging with two bowls of fresh fish pepper soup, accompanied by bread from my favourite bakery all the way in Soho.
“You made this?” I exclaim, even though I’m not really surprised as Dili has cooked for us several times before. But never like this.
“All for you, my dear Ezioma! You deserve it all!” he says, serving me the appetiser, which is soon followed by fried rice, made Naija style, accompanied by stewed lamb and even fried plantain. Okwudili has really pulled all the stops.
“This is one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had in my whole life!” I remark as I wolf down the food. “I’m still amazed you can cook this well. Your mother really did a great job with you.”
“I just want to thank you for everything, Ezioma.” he says sincerely. “What you did for me…very few would have. Without even worrying that I was some sort of some scam, you welcomed me into your life…into your home. You married me without even insisting on a Pre-nuptial Agreement, without even worrying if I was one of those scammers who would clean you out financially. You’ve had me living like a king here in Manhattan. You got me a job even when I couldn’t legally work, you supported me while I wrote my exams and gave me the enabling environment to be able to seek new opportunities. I am forever indebted to you. After my first few months in America, when I was still in L.A, I honestly thought I’d made a mistake coming and that I would never be able to find that American dream. But one encounter with you and everything changed! Ezioma, I just want to say a big thank you!”
“All I want to do is show you my gratitude…somehow, someway!” he continues. “I could only think of this dinner, because you pretty much have everything. I don’t know what I could buy for you, what I could get you, that would even make any sense. I just want to be able to show you my gratitude any way I can.”
I look at him, and the words are out of my mouth before my brain even has a chance to process, screen and approve it. “I want a baby.”
Dili looks at me like I’ve grown a second head. “A what?”
Suddenly feeling emboldened, I sit up straight and look him straight in the eye. “I want a child. I’ll be 38 in July and there is no hope in the horizon of me meeting anyone any time soon. If I can’t have a man, let me at least have a child.”
By now, he is proper confused. “I don’t understand, Ezi. Are you asking me to…”
“It would just be between the two of us. Nobody would need to know you’re the child’s father. After all this, you could walk away from us without having to look back. I’ll take full responsibility for the child.” I say, reaching for his hand. “I’ve been miserable the last few months. Miserable. I even considered going to a sperm bank, but I don’t want a stranger as the father my child.”
Dili pulls his hand away. “Ezioma, I can’t do that! How can you even ask that of me?! You of all people know that was the one thing my father did that I abhor the most! How on earth would I explain this to Onyeka?”
“She doesn’t have to know!” I plead. “I swear to you, Dili, you’ll be able to walk away without even having to look back. We will never, ever bother you. The child won’t even have your last name.”
He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Ezioma. I could never do that. It would be too messy. Too messy.”
I place my hands on my laps and nod in understanding. “I understand, Dili. Forgive me, I don’t know what came over me. I guess I’m just panicking about growing older. Just forget we ever had this conversation.”
He nods, but the mood is destroyed and we sit in silence for a few moments. “I bought your favourite Pineapple Upside Down cake. Should I get you some? With some apricot ice-cream?”
I smile and shake my head as I rise to my feet. “I’m completely stuffed already. Thanks Dili. And please, forgive me and my loose mouth this evening. I had a few cocktails after work, so it was probably the alcohol talking. Thanks for the awesome meal…and happy anniversary.”
I don’t wait for an answer as I make my way to my bedroom, where I immediately throw myself on the bed, my eyes fastened to the ceiling.
Ezioma, what exactly have you just done?!
What on earth was I thinking, asking Dili to give me a child?! I cringe as my words flood my head, my words pleading with him to father a secret child for me. I must have a screw loose for sure.
Later that night, after finally regrouping and having a shower, I sit before my laptop and look for A Simple Kind of Life by No Doubt. I listen to the lyrics and realize no song could better capture my day than that song.
A Simple Kind of Life (No Doubt) – May 15, 2015
For a long time I was in love
Not only in love, I was obsessed
With a friendship that no one else could touch
It didn’t work out, I’m covered in shells
And all I wanted was the simple things
A simple kind of life
And all I needed was a simple man
So I could be a wife…
…I always thought I’d be a mom
Sometimes I wish for a mistake
The longer that I wait, the more selfish that I get
You seem like you’d be a good dad
Now all those simple things are simply too complicated for my life
How’d I get so faithful to my freedom?
A selfish kind of life
When all I ever wanted was the simple things
A simple kind of life
How does a person go from being happy and carefree…to wanting a child with every piece of her soul? How does one go from laughing at young parents struggling with babies to wanting one of her own? How does one go from reveling in her perfect, stress free, commitment free, responsibility free life…to wanting all of it…the stress, the commitment, the responsibility that comes with having a baby?
And not just any baby. A baby with the only man who makes her heart beat?
I stop writing and peer out of the window, realizing the sooner I stop fantasizing over the impossible, the better it will be. I worry that my inability to control my mouth might have cost me the one and only thing Dili is able to give me.
And that realization breaks my heart.
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