I found some way to convince both myself and Abdul that it wasn’t a deal breaker at all, and pretended everything was okay. But getting to work the next day, I could barely concentrate. It was all I could think of. My boyfriend…or rather, my fiancé…an atheist? I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it.
When Voke came to pick me up later that evening, she was eager to know how the birthday I’d been planning for weeks had turned out.
“So, did he like his gift? Did you guys have a good time?” she asked, smiling in anticipation.
I smiled weakly. “We had a great time, and he loved his gift.”
Her brows bunched in a frown.. “What’s the matter? You seem a little…off”
“Abdul asked me to marry him.” I said, smiling.
Voke squealed and pulled me into a hug. Thankfully, we were in standstill traffic, or else maybe we might have ended up in the lagoon.
“Madam, have you forgotten you’re driving?!” I teased.
“Please leave that one! Oh, Isio! I’m so happy for you! Abdul is such a great guy…and he loves you so much!” her eyes went to my bare fingers. “Where is the ring?”
“It’s not yet here. He was planning a grand proposal for later, but I guess he couldn’t wait.”
“Awww bless!” Voke exclaimed. “So romantic!”
And for the rest of the ride back home to Ogudu, we talked about the wedding; colours, venue options, potential bridesmaids, choice of Wedding Planner…everything. Even when we got to our bedroom, it was all we could talk about as we undressed.
“When are you telling the parents?” Voke asked.
“Soon. Maybe tomorrow.” I answered. “His parents will soon be coming from Benin, for the Introduction.”
Voke nodded in approval. “That’s beautiful!” then with a wistful sigh, added, “You’re so lucky, Isio. You always meet men who are serious. See Abdul has proposed to you after only 8 months. Even yeye Ejiro proposed after a short time as well. But yet, Mr. Obiora has kept me hanging her for the past 13 years!”
I sighed along with my sister. It was very true. Voke had gotten involved with Obiora when she was only 16 years old. He was truly all she knew. But yet, here they still were, 13 years later, and no closer to the alter than they’d been as teenagers.
“There’s just one thing though…” I said, my voice quiet. “Abdul told me he’s an atheist.”
Voke’s head spun around so sharply, her neck almost snapped. “He’s a what? An atheist?!”
I shrugged. “He said he doesn’t believe in God. That religion is the biggest scam in the world.”
Voke stared at me, her mouth hanging open. The silence in the room stretched, adding to my own disconcertment.
“Say something nau.” I prodded.
“How can you not have known all this while that your man doesn’t believe in God?” Voke exclaimed. “You guys have never prayed together? Talked about God or anything?”
“I thought he was a Muslim!” I moaned. “I thought that was why he didn’t go to Church!”
“You thought he was a Muslim but didn’t wonder how come he hasn’t been fasting this Ramadan period?” Voke exclaimed again, her face a mirror of her astonishment.
“I thought he wasn’t a devout one…” was my own weak reply.
She stared at me, clearly stunned by my stupidity. “So what are you going to do now? You do know that’s a deal breaker, don’t you?!”
“But why does it have to be though?” I protested. “Who says he won’t come to Christ one day? Who says I can’t be the one to lead him there?”
“Have you even finished leading yourself to Christ?!” Voke exclaimed. “Isio, don’t be foolish!”
“Look at Kirk Cameron…that American actor who was an atheist as a teenager!” I said, trying to convince her. “The guy converted and even left Hollywood to become a Pastor! Look at Jane Fonda, C. S. Lewis, Lee Strobel…they were all atheists and converted also!”
“I see you’ve done your homework!” Voke remarked sarcastically. “So, you somehow think you can convert Abdul?”
“I know I can.” I answered with more conviction than I felt.
“And what about your kids? How will you explain their father’s belief to them? How will you even raise them?!” Voke asked.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I’m sure Abdul will let me raise our kids as Christians!”
Voke shrugged. “If you say so! Good luck explaining this to Mom and dad though.”
“They don’t have to know.” I answered. “If I can convince him to at least cooperate for a Church wedding, everyone can be none the wiser.”
Voke shrugged again, and as I wasn’t ready to talk anymore on the subject, it was the effective end of the conversation.
The next day, Abdul picked me from up from work, and we went back to his house, armed with takeaway and DVDs. It was a Friday night, so there was no hurry getting me back home.
“I’m glad it isn’t an issue for you.” he remarked, as we ate. “For a moment, I was worried you would walk away.”
I smiled wanly, not wanting to tell him anything of my plans to convert him in the very near future. “How long have you been an atheist?” was all I managed to ask.
He shrugged. “I’ve had questions about the whole God and Christianity thing for as far back as I can remember. But I think I was about 17, when I finally decided enough was enough with believing that garbage!”
My heart dropped and several knots formed in my stomach. This wasn’t some fly by night passing fancy, but a way of life he’d lived for 14 years!
“Do you think your folks will mind?” he asked.
“Can we not tell them about it?” I asked. “At least, not just yet. Can we get married in Church and just pretend you’re a Christian? If I tell them, this will be over. I know my parents.”
Abdul nodded. “Understandably. A lot of older folks are not as liberal as you and I. That won’t be a problem at all. If getting married in Church is what it will take to be with you, then I’m ready to do it.”
I sighed deeply, bracing myself for the next question. “And another thing. Our kids. They are going to have to be raised as Christians.”
A deep frown formed on his face, and I was scared I had crossed the line. Nothing could prepare me for what he said next.
“Children? Isio, I don’t want kids.” Abdul said. “I thought I already told you that.”
I stared back at him, blank. Surely, I hadn’t heard him right. “You don’t want kids?” I repeated.
“No, Isio! Why have kids and spoil this beautiful thing we have?!” he said, cupping my face. “I want my wife all to myself. I want to be able to travel the world with her. Look at how much fun we had in Malaysia! You think we would have had that much fun if we’d gone there with a truckload of kids?”
“Nobody is talking about a truckload. There is nothing wrong with having one or two of them…” I said, completely drained emotionally and mentally.
He shook his head. “Even one kid is one too many. I don’t want to waste my money and time raising children. Life is too short…and too sweet! I have so many plans for us, Isio! We don’t need children to be happy. And you don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll get a vasectomy to ensure there are no mistakes ever!”
Looking at him as he talked, I realised that, whilst I’d been prepared to compromise with his atheism, this one was the real deal breaker for me.
“I’m sorry, Abdul. But I want children…and lots of them, if I can manage it.” I said sadly. “I can’t marry a man who doesn’t.”
His eyes reflected his heartbreak, and as we sat in silence in the living room, we knew we had hit our impasse.
The next morning, I declined his offer to drop me at home, and as we embraced, he actually started crying.
“Don’t do this, Isio. We’re so good together. Don’t leave me.” he pleaded.
“Are you ready to change your mind about kids?” I asked. “Do you see yourself ever converting to Christianity one day?”
From the despondent look on his face, I knew I had my answer. All through the cab ride back home, I was also in tears, devastated that yet another relationship had come to a crashing end.
“Is there something wrong with me?” I lamented, lying on my bed. “This is my second engagement that will be breaking!”
“You weren’t engaged to Abdul, Isio. At least, not properly. I wouldn’t count that as one.” Voke said, in a bid to console me.
“Do you know that Pere got a job with Total? He’s leaving the country for Paris next week.” I continued my lamenting.
Voke nodded. “Yeah, Obiora told me.”
I laughed sardonically. “Na wa oh! See this life! Look how the tables have turned! A few years ago, I was the one living the high life with Ejiro, while Pere was a poor student. Now, he has gotten the job that will change his life, and I’m here, back to square one as a poor spinster!”
“You’re only 27 years old, Isio! I wouldn’t call that a spinster. And you’re not poor.”
“Do you know how much I have to my name, after spending all that money on Abul’s birthday? N5k!!! I have only N5k in my account, till my next pay day…after which I will have N85k!” I wailed. “I’m here, with no man, a badly paying job, and you’re telling me I shouldn’t be sad?!”
Voke stared back at me, not knowing what to say. The truth was there really was nothing she could have said.
I hadn’t wanted to tell my parents the reasons for the breakup, but eventually had to when I found out that they had plans to invite Abdul over, in a bid to reconcile us. The atheism was the deal breaker for my father, while the no-children issue was what got to my mother. Neither of them could understand why such a promising young man could have such radical views and beliefs.
In the end, we all had to move on with our lives. Thankfully, Abdul’s friend and the guy who’d introduced us, Etim, no longer worked for my company, so there was no awkwardness to deal with at work. I decided that, even though I was desperate to get married soon, it was probably best to take a break from men, even if only for a little while.
Unfortunately, as the months went by, Voke and Obiora soon started having their own issues. With 2011 almost upon us, the reality of turning 30 and still being unmarried was too much for Voke to bear. It was also worsened by the fact that Obiora just had no plans of settling down whatsoever.
“You need to be patient, Voks!” she told me he constantly chided. “There’s nobody else I want to marry but you. But I need to be financially ready, and right now I’m not.”
“When are you going to be ‘financially ready’?!” Voke had lamented. “You’re not even making any tangible effort, instead you just sit down in your mother’s house, from morning to night! Is it when I’m 40 that you’ll be ‘financially ready’?!”
“You know my real estate hustle will soon pay off! And you also know I can hustle just as effectively from my phone, instead of burning my fuel up and down the streets of Lagos!” he had snapped. “Be patient, Voke. I will marry you.”
She said she’d even been convinced to continue waiting indefinitely, until the day Obiora’s mother confronted her at the house. She’d been lying on the couch in Obiora’s chalet, when the older woman waltzed into the place. An imposing woman and mogul in the banking industrywho had long divorced her husband, she was very protective of her youngest son.
“Good morning, Ma.” Voke greeted, shooting to her feet.
Voke said the woman had mumbled a greeting to her, looking her up and down. “It’s very early in the morning, Voke. Did you sleep here?” she’d asked.
My sister said she’d been lost for words, not knowing whether to lie or answer in the affirmative, wondering why the woman would be asking her such a question after so many years of her sleeping over.
“Apart from the fact that it’s very reckless and irresponsible for a decent girl to be sleeping in a man’s house, I hope you don’t have any plans of trapping my son with a pregnancy!” the older woman continued. “Obiora has told me about how you’re mounting pressure on him for marriage. My dear, if your clock is ticking fast, you better look for another man. Nobody is going to push my son!”
“If his mother thinks he still has all the time in the world, then is there really any hope?” she’d said to me later.
After the woman left the chalet, Voke packed up her things and left before Obiora returned from his morning run. When he came by the house to see her later that day, she told him of the encounter with his mother, and he hadn’t seen anything wrong with what she’d done.
“Why did you tell her I’ve been pressuring you for marriage?” she asked him.
“But haven’t you? Isn’t that all we’ve been talking, or rather, fighting about for the last few months?!” he’d snapped.
Voke said that was when she realised she was in a truly hopeless situation, and was a fighting a battle she could never win.
“Obiora, unlike you, I’m not ready to wait indefinitely.” she told him, heartbroken beyond belief. “I think it might be better for us to part now…before things get ugly. You are still young, and so am I. Let’s break up now that we can still pick up the pieces of our lives and move on.”
After a feeble attempt to change her mind, Obiora left…and Voke finally broke down. Just like she’d done for me many times before, it was now my turn to comfort my sister in her heartbreak.
Catch up on Isio’s story here:
- Iya Beji 1: A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Iya Beji 2: Destiny Blocker
- Iya Beji 3: Daisy
- Iya Beji 4: Upgrade
- Iya Beji 5: Bleeding Love
- Iya Beji 6: The Beast
- Iya Beji 7: The Standby Guy
- Iya Beji 8: The Boss
- Iya Beji 9: The Deal Breaker
Catch up on our other series here: