“You’re too good to let me go…”
The music played softly in the background as I looked at the street sprawled before me from the open window of his tiny two-bedroom apartment.
“Can you please reduce the volume? It’s distracting and I really need to get this work done.”
That was his voice. The love of my life.
“But it is almost at the barest minimum,” I whispered.
“What did you say?” He gave me the ‘Repeat-what- you-just-said-if-you-have-no-sense-left’ look.
I reached for my phone to stop the music that had been on replay for the past two weeks. “You surround me either way it goes…” the songwriter continued as if to encourage me to launch into the main reason I had decided to visit my man unannounced.
“No.” I finally said to myself.
“We need to talk,” I replied ignoring his initial question.
“I want to know your plans for us. Us. Me, You and this Relationship. Is it ok if I steal fifteen minutes of your time to discuss ‘forever and a day more with you?’ Please?”
“No! It is not ok, as you can see I am busy. Can you see?”
“Fifteen minutes David.”
“A lot can happen in fifteen minutes. You know what? Let me just see you off and when I’m done with all of these“ -he swept a hand over his work table – “I will find time to speak with you.”
That was six months ago. I had waited six months for him to ‘find’ time but apparently this time that needed finding was in no hurry to be found. And so I went searching for it myself. It didn’t take long for me to find it. It was hidden in the number of calls he missed, the fights and sabbatical silence, the disgusting looks he sometimes threw my way when I asked a ‘silly’ question and in his refusal to admit that our relationship was headed for the rocks.
Today, I wore my salvation army robe. I was a woman on a mission, ready to enter enemy territory and rescue her man from the deathly grip of a dysfunctional relationship. Before I left home, I had called my best friend to inform her of the turn of events and my decision to ‘be the change my relationship needed.’
“Grace! I believe you are trying too hard. When was the last time this so called boyfriend of yours even called you?”
“Not too long ago,” I snapped back.
It was a big lie. The last time he called was three weeks ago, to ask whether I would visit and cook his favourite meal: vegetable soup and eba. He said he left five hundred naira underneath a pile of new books he had recently purchased.
“Do your magic, just sha make sure it’s veggies,” the message had read. Then as an afterthought, he sent another, “Grace for you.”
Grace for me?
Juliet didn’t let me go. She had texted him back. “Uncle Dave, five hundred naira does not have super powers sir. Even Jesus had to multiply the five loaves and two fishes. Multiply that five hundred sir.”
And that was why he refused to call. She had disrespected him, he said. How could she? How dare she preach at him? A prophet is always dishonoured in his hometown. Yen. Yen. Yen.
I begged, I groveled, I cried and then I did everything all over again.
“See, something must have come over that girl. I don’t even know who gave her the right to reply my messages. Ifè, my love, forgive me.”
“Grace. I have always told you to beware of the company you keep. That girl will just wreck your life.”
“I’ve heard you. I will speak with her and –“
“You still don’t get it do you?” he cut me short. “It’s alright.”
The next day, I moved out of the apartment Juliet and I shared. I didn’t bother to explain my actions. She had disrespected my man. I had to protect him from dishonour.
“Grace,” she had desperately cried. “Okay, just tell me what I did wrong. Is it because of Dave? Ha! Grace this boy is suffering you oh. Five hundred naira to cook soup? I am not saying the amount is too small to make a meal but ha! Five hundred naira oh!
“That’s even your TP to his place na. I’m your friend, I supported this relationship from the beginning but it was high time I told you the truth. Wake up Gracie! Wake up!”
“Hmmmmm.” I grunted. “I love him. Love manages and makes much out of little.”
“God punish that kind of love. I reject it on your behalf.”
I was long gone by then. The Keke man made just two trips and my meagre belongings were out of the house we had shared for over three years. That was when it started.
The first time he slapped me, I thought I was dreaming but the taste of blood in my mouth from the resulting cut my teeth had made on my cheeks when his slap landed reminded me that I was awake, alive and at risk. Soon it became a regular occurrence.
Next came the girls. He’d spend long hours on the phone with a different girl each week I visited to cook vegetable soup. He’d even tell them what he was having for lunch that day – the vegetable soup I cooked.
But I loved him.
My man! My everything.
So,I did not leave. Besides, Valentine was just few days away. There was no way I was going to spend it single. I had invested so much in this relationship. Five years of my life had already been sacrificed on the altar of loving Dee. I couldn’t throw all that away. After all, it was just occasional slaps. He definitely was going to change. Prayer changes everything.
So I began to pray for my man.
Father, teach Dee to love me as you love me. Help him to desist from resorting to violence whenever we have an issue. Look at me. Your son is hurting me.
Heaven laughed. The angels shook their head. Who has bewitched you dear mortal, I am sure they must have thought. I was a mortal in love. School was on strike and so I had ample time to spend with my man. Eventually, the strike was called off and I had to go back to the university. By then, I was a final year student of Microbiology at the Ahmadu Bello University.
One day, Dee called to let me know he had found the girl of his dreams.
“Of course,” I replied. “You’re speaking to her. Stop playing jor.”
“No, Grace! Listen to me. We cannot continue this relationship. I am sorry.”
“What did I do?” I sat in the middle of the road, opposite the Queen Amina Hostel, just close to the basketball court, never minding the fierce cold that was biting my buttocks. “We can talk about it. I’ll change. I’ll do anything. I’m sorry. I have been faithful. Please…where do you want me to start from?”
“It is not you, it is me. God told me we cannot continue. I have lost my peace.”
“Look, Gracie! I have some work to do. You’ll be fine.”
I checked my time. It was 2am in the morning. Phew! What a nightmare, I thought. And then reality pressed play and the dam broke.
I cried. Oh God! I cried until my eyes begged for mercy. I cried from Amina Hostel to the faculty of Engineering where I knew I’d find faithful Juliet reading for our final exams. Another reality struck home. I was to begin my final exams the following day! The final straw? It was the eve of Valentine’s Day! Local girl was finally single.
Eventually, I managed to write the exams, failed two core courses and gained myself an extra year.
After the results were released, I picked up the broken pieces of my life and started all over again. This time with God. I saw all the signs He had placed in front of me when I kept insisting Dee was my missing rib. This time, I was ready to be led. One day, in the middle of Bible studies, we were briefly split into groups and the first day of the rest of my life began. Or so I thought.
Few weeks after I met Ola in Bible study class, guess who called in repentant? Dee. He said he was sorry and ready to take things to the next level. Just like the President. He invited me home to “talk things out.” I had a date with Ola but old habits die hard you know and so I called in sick.
I packed my bags and headed home to talk things out with Dee. I left on Friday. Home was just an hour from Zaria. Dee already had the weekend planned. Saturday, he was going to take me out on a date; our first since I said yes to him. Sunday, we’d attend church and meet with his “brethren” before I returned to school on Monday. I was in cloud 9, Ola forgotten, I eagerly went back to God with a “Dee has changed dear God,” report card.
Daddy shook His head. “Careful, my child,” that still small voice warned.
Saturday before the date, while Dee was getting dressed, his phone rang.
“Babe 2 is calling,” Alexa said.
“Why am I calling his phone?” I asked myself. I must be pretty excited.
I reached for my phone to end the call and came up with nothing. That was when it clicked. I was not Babe 2, Babe 2 was not me.
What have I done to deserve multiple heartbreaks by the same man? Wait first!
I checked the number and was hit with a wave of nausea. Samsung with their amebo now made matters worse by showing me the last message Babe 2 had sent two days before.
“Babe, I am glad you are talking marriage. I can’t wait to spend forever calling you husband.”
I held my head and forced myself to smile while I pretended not to notice the phone that was ringing again. He excused himself and stepped out to answer the call. Soon he came back with some silky excuse. His boss at work forgot his key at home. He had to take the spare key to him.
“Are you Ok? You look nervous. Is anything wrong?
“You’re everything that is wrong!” I almost shouted but no, this girl had grown up in a second. “No babe, I am alright. Go on, I’ll wait at the restaurant.”
He left. To see Babe 2.
Then the dam broke a second time. I thought about Ola and the program he had invited me to attend in his church. I remembered I had even missed a couple of his calls and had not replied the message he had sent the night before asking if I was going to be around for the programme.
I began to cry afresh.
Maybe heaven decided to step in and save me from myself. Maybe God got tired of watching me make stupid mistakes that made a mockery out of His love for me. I don’t know what happened but Ola called at that instant. Again
“Hello?” I said in between sobs.
“Nene? Are you alright?”
Local man even had a nickname for me. A fresh set of tears washed down my face. Why are we like this God? Why do we go for the bad ones and ignore your sons?
“I have been thinking of you since you left. Will you make it tomorrow?” he continued.
“Nene? Are you sure you’re alright? Talk to me.”
“You don’t sound like the Grace I know. Come back home. I am waiting. We can get you cookies after the programme. Are you there?”
I wasn’t there.
I was on my way to the motor park. Home was calling.
Dee returned two hours later to a note and a farewell speech;
“Not the Grace you used to know but I know His grace will be sufficient for you.
It’s Valentine’s day…and it’s been 4 years with Ola. We have had our fair share of relationship troubles but permit me to say, I’m not the Grace you used to know. A lot has changed about me.
Now I know that you cannot start a thing and invite God to give His blessings.
Now I know a man who does not submit to God is a dangerous man.
Now I know I am a woman who acknowledges the God that is in the midst of her. I know this girl will not fail (Oh! I graduated! Ola made sure).
Now I am not afraid to be single because I know a God who isn’t afraid to show up vulnerable on dates.
I know a God who is too good to let me go.
Highs and lows, like He planned it from the start,
Ever close to His heart,
Should I rise or should I fall,
I have tasted of a grace and I’m no longer the Grace you used to know.
Oh! Happy Valentine’s Day Ola!
Inspired by the song: Highs and Lows, by Hillsong Young and Free