My phone vibrated, and I felt the familiar butterflies in my stomach.
Hey, Mrs. C! How are you today?
A wide smile broke on my face, as I happily typed a reply.
Very well, thank you. You?
Happy now 😉 he responded.
I grinned broadly.
What are you up to? Let me guess. Lying in bed, sipping on juice, and watching Eastenders.
I giggled. He knew me so well.
Eastenders actually just finished. Watching Antiques Roadshow now. I responded.
That was actually going to be my next guess.
“Gina. Can we turn off this TV? I want to sleep.” came the muffled voice of Tobenna, my husband.
I glared at him, irritated. “I’m watching it.”
“You’re chatting on your phone, and even the light from that is also beginning to disturb me!”
You still there?
I returned my attention to my phone. Yeah. Was talking to Mr. C.
What about you? Where is Mrs. O?
Sleeping. I told you before that she sleeps ridiculously early.
Strange how a night owl like you could have ended up with someone who goes to bed early.
Yeah. Strange how we ended up with people other than each other…
I stared at my screen, and I knew he was doing the same…both of us pondering our current situations.
“Mom! I’ve been looking for my gym bag. Can I have your car keys so I can go and check if it’s there?!” my middle son, Obinna, said, bursting into the room.
Tobenna sat up angrily. “My friend! How many times have I warned you about coming in here without knocking!”
“But Dad, I need the bag now. One of my notebooks is in there!”
I hissed under my breath as my husband and son bantered. The story of my life.
I have to go. Mini crisis. I typed regretfully.
Okay…Chat tomorrow? he responded.
I smiled in anticipation of it.
Maybe was my own coy response.
“Gina, drop that your phone and answer this boy!” Tobenna growled, covering his head with the bed sheet.
I glared at him, and had to swallow the choice words threatening to pour forth from my mouth. Surely, we both had equal responsibility for our boys. Why was I the one who had to get out of bed to address their needs?
Reaching into my bedside drawer, I retrieved my car keys and flung it at my son, who proceeded to happily leave the room. Deciding that the TV show wasn’t worth my while, I powered it off.
“Were you on your school group chat?” Tobenna asked, as we lay in the dark.
I was momentarily confused, until I remembered that was the excuse I’d given him for my new addiction to my phone. “Yes.”
He chuckled. “What do you ladies chat about, morning to night? I barely even look at the messages from mine.”
I said nothing, keeping still as we lay in the darkness. If only he knew. Feeling guilty, I attempted to snuggle up to him, but he shrugged me off.
“Gina, I beg you. I just want to sleep.” he muttered.
Dejected, I tossed back to my side of the bed…and thought about a man on the other side of town.
Mr. O…or as everyone knew him, Mudi.
My first love.
He wasn’t my first boyfriend…or even the first man I was ever with. He had just been the very first man I fell madly and deeply in love with. He was also the first man to horribly break my heart. It had taken me years to get over the heartbreak and devastation of our breakup…and I thought I would never love again.
Until I met Tobenna.
It had taken me longer, but when I eventually fell in love with Tobenna, I fell deep. I loved him in a different way…a calmer, more secure way. And it was even more beautiful, because I was very secure in his own love for me…very unlike what I’d had with Mudi. He completely made me get over my heartbreak, and by the time he proposed to me, I had completely forgotten anyone like Mudi existed.
We went on to have our kids in quick succession; 3 boys. But as the years went along, the passion in our union began to dissipate. As our boys grew, I realised Tobenna got fulfilment from spending time the family, and paid no real attention to romance. Date night for him was all 5 of us, plopped in front of our TV, watching some mundane TV show or the other.
“We don’t need to go out to enjoy each other, baby.” he remarked, every time I complained, or tried to convince him to take me out for a romantic outing.
And it only got exacerbated when he quit his well-paying job in a large multinational oil company, to start his own business. He was gone from home often, and even when he was home, it was all he wanted to talk about.
“Baby, I’m trying to build a legacy for us!” he said, anytime I complained. “If I succeed, we will all enjoy it!”
But that did nothing to console me. It only served to make me feel even more lonely…
Which is why, when Mudi came back into my life, he met an open door.
After our horrible breakup, we lost touch completely. Even though he also lived in Lagos, I deliberately did everything I could to keep him far away from me. I cut off ties with a lot of our mutual friends, and avoided places he frequented. And for years, successfully kept him out of my life. I was able to fall in love again, get married, and start life afresh.
I ran into him once though. Tobenna and I had been married about two years, and were already expecting our second son. It was at a friend’s child’s party, and my heart almost flew out of its cavity when I saw Mudi. He was there with his own sons, and had attempted to make small talk with me. Tobenna, who knew his older brother, indulged him in mild conversation, but I’d been cold and unresponsive.
“Why didn’t you want to talk to your ex-bobo na?” Tobenna teased in the car ride home.
But I hadn’t been amused. I realised that I was still angry over what Mudi had done to me so many years ago.
Thankfully, after that event, our paths never crossed again.
Until a few months ago, when I was chatting with a mutual friend, who mentioned going to see him on his birthday. Casually, and thinking nothing of it, I’d asked the friend to wish him a happy birthday for me.
So, I was pretty surprised to receive a WhatsApp message from a strange number the next day.
Thank you so much for your message, Gina. It truly made my day. Mudi.
On a good day, I might not have replied that message. Or at best, I would have answered with a monosyllable, and ended the conversation. But that evening, sitting in my living room as my younger sons argued over something or the other, and as Tobenna engrossed himself in a Manchester United football match, the loneliness I felt prompted my response.
I hope you enjoyed your day. How have you been? I typed.
Happier now that I’m chatting with you.
For the first time in over five years, I felt butterflies tingle in my stomach.
Oh? was my response. Tell me more.
And I knew things were about to get interesting…
Where is the Love? is published on Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays (9am).