The words from the divorce petition jumped out at me one by one…Adultery…Sole Physical Custody…it almost felt like I was reading a movie script and not something that actually concerned me. It felt so alien that I couldn’t reconcile it with my reality. Yes, there had always been the scare that Tobenna wouldn’t forgive what I’d done and that our separation would be permanent…but a divorce petition was an entirely different matter. It wasn’t until I saw his signature appended that I realised this was no joke. This was no movie script. This was for real.
“What are you going to do?” Chika asked. “Do you want me to go and see Tobenna myself? He hasn’t been answering my calls but I’m sure he won’t ask me to leave if I go to the house or office to see him?”
I shook my head, suddenly feeling bereft of any more fighting energy. It had been almost two months of anxiety, and I was frankly fed up. The fact that Tobenna had actually taken his time to have his lawyer draft and file an actual divorce petition…the fact that he’d actually had me served with it made me realise there was probably not much to salvage in our relationship anymore.
“Do you want to get a lawyer of your own?” Chika asked.
I shook my head again, putting the paperwork back in the envelope. “I’m not going to respond to it. What does George think? I bet he thinks I had it coming.”
“Funnily enough, he’s not happy about it.” Chika answered. “I think he always believed that you guys would resolve things eventually.”
Yeah, so had I.
After Chika left, I sat alone on that small hotel bed…and I felt a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in months. The worst had finally come. There was nothing more to anticipate. Tucking the envelope into the bottom of my suitcase, I knew it was time for me to make some changes of my own. Whilst I had no intention of responding to the petition, it was obvious that returning home was not an option…and I couldn’t live in a hotel room forever. I knew it was time to take control of my life. It had been on hold for way too long.
The next morning, I checked out of the hotel and returned to my family house in Festac. My parents’ longtime housekeeper was pleasantly surprised to see me, and soon made sure I was well settled in. Sitting in my old bedroom later that night, I couldn’t help but marvel over how life had brought me full circle. It was on that same bed I’d mourned the end of my relationship with Mudi…and happily anticipated the beginning of a new one with Tobenna. And now, there I was, 20 years later…back to square one.
Having left firm instructions with the housekeeper not to let anyone know I was in the house, not even my parents when they called, I remained sequestered in my bedroom for days. And in those quiet moments, I was finally able to forgive myself. I forgave the little girl inside me, who all she craved for was love. I forgave the woman inside me, who longed simply to feel special. I forgave the wife inside me, who sought the affection she no longer got from her husband in the arms of another man.
I forgave myself.
Spending that time in the house where I’d grown, I was able to lay so many demons to rest. I was able to destroy the pedestal on which I’d mounted my first relationship with Mudi. I was able to see that the only thing that had made that relationship special had been sweet words and fickle chemistry. It didn’t deserve to be idolized. Rather, it deserved to be laid permanently to rest.
And lying in bed alone at night, the loneliness I’d known for the better part of a decade by my side, I knew that whilst I’d been the one caught with my pants down, I didn’t deserve to bear all the blame for the breakdown of my marriage. Tobenna had no right to act the complete martyr. He was as much to blame as I was.
On my third weekend in Festac, I got a visit from the person I’d expected to see the least. My older brother, George.
“So this is where you came to hide yourself!” he remarked, walking into the garden where I was hard at work with my father’s beloved plants.
Looking at him, I struggled with mixed emotions, not knowing what had brought him there to see me. “Did you come to get something for the folks? Are you travelling soon?”
George smiled and stooped to join me. “I came to see you, Georgina! Chika finally told me where I could find you.”
Since being in Festac, Chika’s and my sons’ calls were the only ones I’d accepted. My dear sister-in-law, Lotanna, had stayed back in America, especially as Tobenna’s birthday party had been cancelled. One of her daughters was heavily pregnant, and she’d accepted to stay back with her. She’d assumed all was well, following our counseling, and I hadn’t bothered telling her that not only was it far from the truth, but that I’d even moved out of the house. However, with the frantic way she’d recently started calling, something told me she’d found out that things had imploded.
“You look well.” George remarked. “Much better than the last time I saw you.”
“I was on a hospital bed the last time you saw me.” I muttered.
“My point exactly!”
“What did you come here for, George? To gloat? To say ‘I told you so!’? To rush me into signing the divorce papers?” I snapped.
He put his arm over my shoulder and squeezed it. “Gina, you know that I have only your best interest at heart. I know I was hard on you, but that’s because I was so, so, so bitterly disappointed in you. How could you have cheated on your husband, and with none other than Mudiaga, of all people?! I was so furious, I wanted to just beat you up then and there, for disgracing our family that way.” he exhaled deeply, before continuing. “But I should have been there for you, and I’m sorry.”
I looked at my brother, and could see genuine contrition in his eyes. “You’re lucky that I can’t stay angry with you for too long!” I muttered, trying not to smile.
“I’ve tried talking with Tobenna…” George said.
I shook my head. “No, please don’t do that. More than enough people have spoken to him on my behalf. If he couldn’t listen to his own sister or Priest, you think it’s you he’ll listen to?”
“I’m sure I can get through to him, man-to-man.” George said. “I can make him see that divorce is really not the way to go with this.”
“If Tobenna has made the decision to divorce me, there’s not much anyone can do.” I answered.
George looked at me stunned. “So you’re fine with it? You’re going to go along with the divorce?”
I shrugged. “I’m not signing anything yet, but I think it’s high time I accept my new reality. I think it’s time to tell our parents…and to also start preparing my sons for what the future holds.”
George shook his head. “If only I was there when that fool came to the hospital! I would have beat him up black and blue, and stuffed all those flowers down his throat!”
I threw my head back and laughed at the visual. If anyone had told me a few weeks before that I would actually find humour in the situation, I would have called the person a liar.
George and I spent the rest of the day talking, and I informed him of my decision to travel the following week, first to England to see my older sons, and then to the States, to see our parents. I didn’t have to return to work until March, so I had about 6 weeks to not only rest, but to open up to the people closest to me.
“And what happens when you get back in March?” George asked.
“I don’t know. Come back here, I guess. Why go look for a house, when I have free accommodation in my father’s house?!” I answered.
“By the time you face the traffic from here to your office, nobody will tell you to move closer to town!” George retorted.
“I’ll get myself a driver. How bad could it be?!”
“Luckily for you, I’m not going to be wicked enough to allow you find out for yourself.” George answered. “You’ll come and stay with us. It’s less than 30 minutes from your office, so at least you won’t have too rough a commute.”
I smiled and couldn’t help but draw a parallel to the last time George and Chika rescued me like this…when I was heartbroken by Mudi. And now, 20+ years later, they were rescuing me again.
“I’ll have to think about it.” I said. “But thanks for the offer. I appreciate it.”
“Regardless of what you say, I’ll work on Tobenna while you’re away. I’m sure he’ll listen to me.” George insisted.
I didn’t even bother arguing…or getting my hopes up. The Tobenna I knew wasn’t one to make rash decisions. He was a very methodical person who took a lot of time to plan his moves…and when he made a move, it was always final.
I left for London the following Thursday, and checked into a hotel near the boys’ Middlesex campus, and over dinner told them about the possibility that my separation from their Dad could be permanent after all. It had been an emotional one, but not half as bad as I’d thought it would be. Quoting my older son, Kele, they had a feeling this was coming.
“You haven’t been happy for a long time, Mom.” He’d said to me, reminding me just how intuitive he was. “I guess somewhere deep inside, I knew this would happen one day.”
Obinna, my middle son, had been less emotional, especially as almost his friends had divorced parents. But as heavy as the discussions with the boys were, by the time I left London the following Sunday, I felt like a huge weight had been taken off my chest.
But by the time I got to Virginia, I lost all the courage to share the news with my parents. My father looked so weak and frail, and even though the prognosis was that he was getting better, seeing him just took the wind out of my sails.
“How is Tobenna?” my mother asked. “We haven’t heard from him since we spoke with him and the boys over Christmas. I hope he isn’t over working himself as usual!”
I smiled stiffly. “He’s fine. You know he’s always busy.”
“I’m still surprised you weren’t with them for his birthday. Especially after you’d been planning his party for months!” Anita, my older sister, remarked.
“I already told you guys that I had to work over Christmas.” I repeated the lie I’d told them over the holidays.
“Yeah, that’s what you said.” Anita responded, and from the look in her eyes, I could tell she had a feeling something was going on.
And it wasn’t surprising that she could, considering how close we’d once been. Even though eight years separate us, we’d been very close when we were younger and in the earlier years of her relocation to America. But as the years went by, time and distance made us drift apart, making me closer to my sister-in-law, Chika. Anita had done very well for herself, with a thriving career as a nurse and an almost 30-year old marriage, but for whatever reason, we’d been reduced to almost strangers.
“What’s going on, Gina?” she asked, when we were alone in her kitchen later that evening. “Something has been off for a few months. Even George has been acting funny. What’s up with you and Tobenna?”
Knowing I couldn’t keep it from her any longer, I told her the whole story…from beginning to end. She listened intently as I spilled all about how unhappy I’d been in my marriage, and how I’d fallen into the hands of my ex boyfriend.
“Mudi…that’s Jerry’s younger brother, right? The one who left you for another woman.” she asked.
I nodded, and she shook her head. “Gina…I really wish you’d told me when you and Tobenna were struggling. Umoh and I had almost the same problem years ago. We were both working long hours in parallel shifts at the hospitals, and I felt so estranged from him! In fact, some days would pass without us seeing each other!” she leaned in conspiratorially. “Babe, that’s how I started sleeping with one small boy at the hospital!”
I actually spat my drink out. “Whaaat?!”
My older sister shrugged. “I’m not proud of it, but for over a year, one young Jamaican nurse was firing me steady! And it wasn’t just the sex. He just made me feel so good about myself!”
“Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed. “For over a year?! Did Umoh ever find out.”
She nodded. “I told him. I just woke up one morning, and told him everything.”
My mouth was agape. “And he forgave you?!!”
“Not at first. He was devastated! He actually wept, accusing me of betraying him when he was working his ass off to keep our three kids in Ivy League schools and I was there sleeping with some small boy.”
“When did this happen?”
“I’d just turned 41, so about 11 years ago. Mfon had just started at Yale, and we were officially empty nesters, I’ll never forget.” she answered.
I shook my head in amazement. “You were sleeping with another man for a whole year, and your husband forgave you. I didn’t even sleep with mine, and I’ve been given marching orders!”
“Umoh and I had a very long road to recovery. It was painful. It was rough. It was tough. At a point, we weren’t sure we’d pull through. We must have probably had over 100 hours of counseling. In the end, we both had to take responsibility for what we’d both done to hurt our marriage, and that was the real turning point for us. We both cut down our hours, and put more effort into saving our marriage. We had to do the work!” She placed her hand over mine. “If you’d told me how you were feeling, I would have told you of so many other ways you could gotten Tobenna’s attention. I might have been able to prevent you from getting seduced by that Mudi fellow. In the frame of mind you were in, it was only normal for you to have confused your loneliness for desire for this other guy. But in the cold light of day, I’m sure you realised you felt nothing for him after all!”
“Exactly!” I exclaimed, so happy to hear someone else verbalise my feelings. “It wasn’t until the very last minute, when I was actually lying naked before him, that I realised he wasn’t the one I was yearning for.” I shook my head as my voice broke. “But I ended up losing the one man I actually did want. The man I actually do want.”
“Tobenna will come around, don’t you worry.” Anita assured me. “He’s probably just angry, especially because it appears emotions were involved between you and the Mudi. Just give him time, and I’m sure you two will work things out. That guy loves you oh! When we spoke with him on his birthday, I could actually hear the sadness in his voice. The man was broken, and I can only imagine what this so-called divorce is doing to him. It’s probably killing him slowly.”
Later that night, I lay in bed, thinking about what my older sister had said. With how close she and her husband were, nobody would ever believe anything so catastrophic had ever happened in their marriage. And it filled me with hope anew…hope that all was not lost after all.
Whilst still in America, I spoke with Lotanna and finally told her all about the current situation, culminating in the divorce petition Tobenna had sent me.
“So the minute I got on the plane, you and Tobe scattered everything I had done to fix things?!” she exclaimed. “But Father Adekunle said he’d sent you two to therapy!”
“Tobenna only went for one session, before dropping out.”
She clucked her teeth. “When you told me the party had been cancelled, I just knew something was wrong. And now divorce??? Mba mba! That one can never happen!”
“You mean he hasn’t mentioned any of it to you?” I asked.
“He hasn’t even told our other siblings about the incident! Not even Ahanna that he’s so close to. I’m the only one that knows till now. It’s one of the things that has been giving me confidence all this while. I thought that him not telling his family meant things had been resolved!”
“I’m so sorry for keeping you in the dark, Sis.”
“And Sochi isn’t having her baby until April, meaning I’ll be here till October at the very earliest. Or maybe I could quickly rush home before she has her baby?” she said, her voice heavy with frustration.
“That won’t be necessary, Sis.” I answered. “I think it might be best to just give him time to cool off. I’ll give him the space he needs.”
“Just make sure you don’t sign anything!” she retorted.
“Don’t worry, I won’t.” I answered with a smile.
Hearing that he hadn’t escalated the issue to his family gave me a lot of hope, and when I shared the news with Anita, she was hopeful as well. Emboldened, I was able to relax for the remainder of my holiday, convinced that all Tobenna and I needed was time for our love and marriage to heal.
By the time I returned to Nigeria in mid-March, I was refreshed and rejuvenated, full of hope for the future. I attempted the commute from Festac to work for a week, before I finally accepted George and Chika’s offer to move into their home in GRA Ikeja. With all their children out of the house, they had more than enough space for me.
In the pink and white bedroom which belonged to their older daughter, I spent most of my alone moments on my knees, praying. I prayed for the for the softening of my husband’s heart and the restoration of my marriage. And in those precious moments of speaking with God, and I mean really speaking with him, I found that peace which they say surpasseth all understanding. The peace that everything would be okay in the end.
Right from my first day back at work, I returned to meet several dry bouquets of roses waiting for me in my office.
“They were delivered on Valentine’s Day, Ma.” Idayat said, handing me the card that came with them.
But of course, Mudi.
That first day, I’d been so incensed and had ripped the card to pieces, enraged he’d dared look for me again after what he’d already cost me. I hadn’t even bothered responding when Idayat asked if she could use the flowers for pot pourri. Thankfully, there was no word from him after that.
By the time he showed up at the door of my office weeks later, the Gina who looked up from her desk wasn’t the same hungry, anxious and attention-starved Gina, who’d looked at him like a piece of fine steak. It wasn’t the angry Gina, who would have gladly shot him on sight. No, instead it was a wiser and calmer and Spirit-filled Gina, who simply saw a handsome…but very sad and empty man.
“Hi Gina.” he said tentatively.
“Hello Mudi. It’s been a while. How are you?” I asked, smiling.
He smiled, seemingly encouraged. “May I?” he gestured at the seat.
He sat and looked at me for a while. “You look very well, Gina. There’s something different about you. I can’t put my finger on it.”
“It’s God, Mudi. I didn’t know Him as well as I now do the last time you saw me.” I answered, still smiling.
He looked at me with a raised brow, before leaning in. “I hear you never did work things out with Tobenna. A little bird tells me you live with your brother now.”
I nodded. “Your little bird is correct about me living with George, but wrong about me not working things out with Tobenna. We’re going to work things out.”
He guffawed. “This is April, Gina. It’s been almost 6 months since…you know. Almost half a year!”
“Tobenna and I will be fine, Mudi.”
He grabbed my hands, startling me. “Gina, I’m still waiting for you. I have been like the walking dead since you left me. I can’t live without you. Please come back to me!”
I gently pulled my hands out of his grip. “Mudi! Stop all this and go back to your wife. I’m sure she wants you back. Don’t break up your family!”
“Gina, you’re the one I want.”
I shook my head and smiled at him like one would smile at a child. “I’m really not, Mudi. What you want is the idea of me…not me. Go back to the woman with whom you built a home with for 20 years… the woman who has been there with you through the good and the bad. Or doesn’t she want you anymore?”
I finally saw his veneer crack, and he looked suddenly confused. “She does. She’s been sending all our friends and relatives to speak with me. Even our Priest…”
“You don’t know how lucky you are.” I said to him, truly meaning it. “Go back to her…and open your heart. Forget about childhood fantasies and give all your love to the woman God has joined you with. Go and rebuild your home!”
He shook his head, reaching for me again. “But, Gina…”
“From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry for all the encouragement I gave you. I’m so sorry for leading you on. I’m not blameless in any of this, and for what role I played in hurting you and your family…especially your wife…I’m so sorry.”
I rose to my feet. “It was wonderful reconnecting with you, Mudi. But at this point, I think it’s time for us to say our final goodbyes.”
He looked up at me, and a lone tear rolled down his face. Sadly, he too rose to his feet, and without another word to me, walked out of my office.
And rather than any sadness or despair, all I felt was tremendous relief!
Catch up on Gina’s story here:
- Where is the Love? 1: Where is the Love…
- Where is the Love? 2: Love Letters
- Where is the Love 3: A Family Issue
- Where is the Love? 4: Tobenna
- Where is the Love? 5: Loneliness
- Where is the Love? 6: Bad Romance
- Where is the Love? 7: Pandora’s Box
- Where is the Love? 8: Butterflies
- Where is the Love? 9: Roller Coaster
- Where is the Love? 10: Cool
- Where is the Love? 11: The Girl from Ipanema
- Where is the Love? 12: Lost Without you
- Where is the Love? 13: Roses & Diamonds
- Where is the Love? 14: For Eternity
- Where is the Love? 15: Passion…and Passion
- Where is the Love? 16: Naked
- Where is the Love? 17: Everything for you
- Where is the Love? 18: The Husband…The Lover
- Where is the Love? 19: Love Story Distractions
- Where is the Love? 20: Grand Gesture
Catch up on our other series here: