My heart ached. It couldn’t really ache, could it? I didn’t want to exaggerate the situation. That sort of thing only happened in the movies. I was living in real life yet I felt my heart literally ached. It didn’t ache when John left me behind to study in the United States. We had come up with a sustainable plan for the period we would be apart after all. My heart didn’t ache when John gushed about that reserved Yoruba girl he met either, although I feared it was the beginning of our end. The myth was that Yoruba girls were loud and uncultured in civil matters but Funmi, as he called her, succeeded in impressing John. However she did that, I’ll never know. He did mention he was impressed about her because she was a virgin though. Hm. He wouldn’t stop talking about her and I encouraged him. It was my tactic to stay abreast with everything he did and things that interested him but I was disappointed that he felt comfortable to blather about another female the way he did about her. No, I didn’t feel the weight of these things on my mind. Not until circumstances changed.
The disappointment began to affect me in ways that caused my heart to ache. There were no words thereafter, not from the emails, or from the telephone, or from Dora. John went blank. How would have I explained the sudden abortion in plans? When the first week went, my mind wouldn’t rest. I wanted Dora to tell me everything was OK since she spoke regularly to her brother. I wondered why he wouldn’t speak with me. By the second week, I was beginning to live in anxiety. I loved John. He loved me too. He adored me even and I was sure he wouldn’t jeopardise our relationship. I desperately wanted any explanation for his silence. By the third week, I was ill. My heart ached within its case. It almost felt like it was growing bigger than my chest. I told Dora how I was feeling and why I was feeling that way. She could only assure me that everything was OK. I wasn’t convinced.
Then I began to lose concentration. I was sure I was losing my mind when I began to perceive John’s scent everywhere yet I knew it couldn’t be him. His scent wasn’t a popular one. John smelled exotic; I still don’t know how to explain it. It was fresh, as of a baby’s powdered skin. It was sweet, as of the burst of cherries in the mouth. It was comforting, as the melting of cold jelly in the mouth on a hot day. But then, I felt a sense of sanity when my Philosophy professor mentioned in one of his classes on Perception that there was a cause for perceiving familiar scents in almost everyone who walked by especially if the person was close.
When I grew desperate to feel John close to me, I had one of his pictures sketched out in an enlarged glass portrait. The artist did an excellent job. I hung the picture on my wall. Dora thought I was being too hard on myself about her brother’s silence. I had stopped asking her anything. I wrote a little poem at the back of the frame as I imagined I spoke the words to his face.
I’m lit up now that you’re here
Please don’t leave me again,
My heart disappeared while you were gone
Except for when I lost myself in our songs.
I listened to the words that are us
Words so righteous and pure
And I float to your arms
It’s there that I trust
I will never know any harm
At times I cried so much
Needing you next to me
Needing your touch
It hurt so much it killed me
I hate that you have to be too far
Because I need you in my arms
To take my heart and heal it
To hold you and kiss you
Until then, my love, I am keeping you with me.
That portrait comforted me. The pain in my heart began to cease and I lived again.
I received an email the following week from John. I was happy to see his name on my inbox list. I opened it and read it carefully. By the end of the email, I was confused and frustrated. As if I knew he needed further convincing from what I told him. He couldn’t believe that my father suddenly changed his mind after paying full term fee at the University of Oklahoma. He genuinely wanted to know if there was someone else. Like that was reason enough to forgo that huge amount of school fees. I took my time in replying his mail. I needed to reply with a clear head so I wouldn’t sound deriding. I maintained my story and reassured him of my love for him if ever he was beginning to doubt it.
We seemed OK after that but only because we tip-toed around each other, acting dodgy on issues and conversations we normally felt at ease with. The suspicious new place we had gotten in our relationship became overwhelming especially because of the distance.
One sunny afternoon, Dora called me on my mobile phone and asked me to meet with her at the canteen. I unenthusiastically dragged myself out of bed and didn’t mind how out-of-place my hair was. When I got to the canteen, I barely saw Dora’s form. A tall male figure blocked her as they talked. My focus was on Dora till I noticed the tall slim figure resembled John. On a second thought, it looked like a deliberate attempt not to be easily seen from behind but no matter how much I had lost my mind and nursed a broken heart, I was sure it was John this time. I paused to pat my hair down and wipe off the oil from my bland face. Dora could have told me so I would have looked good for my love. He turned. It was him. I ran shamelessly to him. I jumped on him. It was indeed a pleasant surprise. John held me tightly in that special way that convinced me that I was safely his. I wanted to be in his embrace forever. I wanted to cry but my tear ducts failed me. Perhaps, John would have known how deeply I was happy to see him again, to hold him in my arms, to feel the warmth of his strong frame, to actually perceive that perfect scent of him. I never thought I would enjoy that again.
“Do you want to get your things and come home with me?” John whispered in my ears.
I only nodded. If I had uttered a word, my wobbly voice would have betrayed me.
Dora, John and I left for their home that afternoon. I packed a few things but it would have appeared that I packed a lot just for a few days’ stay. John drove; I sat by him. Dora sat behind. I just wanted to keep adoring John’s cute face. He spoke freely with his sister but I wouldn’t speak freely. I had become too shy suddenly. He looked at me occasionally and smiled. I smiled back. He held out his palm, just as our first hand love-making experience, I put my hand in his and I couldn’t really envisage how dearly I missed him. His palm still felt soft and dreamy. I didn’t want to dream now. I wanted to live in the sweetness of that moment forever. I closed my eyes and I felt the gliding sensation of the movement of his palm all over mine. My heart ached again for a brief moment. It amazed me how he could love me so much yet discipline himself to keep away from me for weeks.
While he unpacked a few of his things when we got to his place, I thought it would be a great time to present to him my special photo portrait as a gift. I would probably have nothing else to give him to remember me by when he returned.
“What is this?” he asked as he unwraps it. I smiled and turned to leave because I couldn’t bare the romantic nostalgia in the moment yet I didn’t want to influence his emotions. He caught my hand before I could move too far from him. “This is nice. Thank you”, he smiled.
I wanted to melt into his arms and stay there. I wanted him to hold me and make passionate love to me in that instant as we would have done normally yet I wanted to behave like a grown up with complicated unresolved issues. We had to iron things out and be sure what our next agenda would be now that we might not be together for many more years.
“You’re welcome” was all I said instead, avoiding to meet his eyes.
But later that night, we kissed and touched and made unforgettable love in the most passionate way. We did that again the day after and the day after that and the one after that. We forgot our situation for a moment and enjoyed each others’ company. When it dawned on me that John would be gone again in two days, I yearned to make special memories with him. I had been listening to Brandy a consolation in my times of paranoia. I put in my Full Moon album disk in the player and skipped to track fourteen.
“Dance with me”, I gave him my hand just as the music began to play. He took my hand and came to me. He put his arms around my thin waist. I wrapped mine around his shoulders as I stole occasional looks to remember him by.
I know that it’s late, and maybe I shouldn’t be so into you
It’s just that tonight, I am so taken I’m fallen for you
When I look in your eyes I can see a million possibilities
And I know you’ll be leaving me soon, but tonight
Come a little bit closer, let me hold you baby
I will be good to you, and we can try to forget tomorrow
Make it last forever tonight
The rest of the song told of my frightful acknowledgement of what lay ahead for us. It was inevitable even if we weren’t talking about it. And again, in denial, we danced so beautifully to the song and mixed in sweet love afterward. It would be our last. By the next day, John sat me down for the first time on our issues.
“So, what’s this about you not coming to the United States anymore?”
I was frustrated we had to go back there but I could only indulge him. “My dad wasn’t convinced that I would be fine in a foreign land all alone”, I said casually. If only I felt indifferent about the whole situation as calmly as I portrayed myself but I was battling myself about expressing the right emotion at the right time so as not to be misconstrued.
“Really”, he was definitely not buying the excuse. “And there was nothing you could have done or said to convince him otherwise? Is our relationship that trivial to you that you would quietly throw it away? Just like that?” His tension was beginning to come through and it showed in the American accent that came through in his words as he spoke in an ascending fashion.
I heaved a sigh. It was the only thing I did to fight my tears and although it would have been easier to cry out my feelings if that would have convinced John of my devotion to him notwithstanding, I wasn’t the type to be to present myself a grovelling whine. “There was nothing I could have done under the circumstance” was all I muttered.
“Right”, John said nodding his head continually, wondering what really was going through my head. He looked at me, “So, what happens to us?”
“We can manage the distance till I’m old enough to make the decision on my own”.
“How long is that exactly? Do you realise it’s really difficult for me to be without you? I don’t know who has been keeping you company but I don’t want to share you with anyone else. I either have all of you or nothing”, he confessed passionately.
“And you don’t think I want to be with you?” I blubbered, leaning forward in my seat.
“It doesn’t look like it. You are giving me signals that are new to me with you and I don’t know what to make of them”, John said confused.
“I am the same person. I’ve just learned a few new tricks in keeping strong in your absence”, I tried to convince him. If only there were believable ways I could make him see how hard I was trying to be strong and not break down as I really wished. I would have knelt to him and begged him for time. I would have cried and promised to do anything just to be assured he would hold on a little longer for me.
“I see”, John said still nodding his head. The situation frustrated him and he was being expressive about it. I just plainly didn’t know how best to express my emotions.
There was silence for a moment and I watched John roll his eyes back and forth as he looked like he was calculating some things in his mind. I found no words to convince him any further. He would have to believe me, trust me and was willing to hold on to what we had or he would eventually turn to Funmi. I wanted to mention Funmi but I didn’t. It would demean our relationship and insult his trust.
“You have done all you can, I suppose”, he said finally, almost in a whisper. “I will do all that I can too”.
In that instant, I knew we were over and although I dared him to say those words, I didn’t know what I would have done if he did.
“You know I love you, right?” I said, in like manner as I reached to take his hand.
“I know”, he said plainly and got up, leaving me sitting there.
John left for the United States the next day. Dora and I saw him to the airport. John and I lay in bed ordinarily the night before although he held me in his arms while we listened to Jaheim’s Just In Case. We said little to each other after the heated conversation but I hoped he would get over it and we would once again find ourselves. Again, John was disappointed that I wouldn’t shed tears at his departure.
He called me immediately he landed at the United States to ask me to check my email. I was nervous. I had an inkling what would be in my email from him.
My precious Sweetthing,
How I love you
From the moment I laid eyes on you, I loved you
And through our tender loving, I loved you more each day
Being without you hurt in many ways I would never find words to describe
If only you would pour out your heart to me
I could understand how you feel
But I honestly cannot assure you of the time you are asking of me
I could tell you I would wait for you and mean it
But that might turn out impossible on the long run
To hurt you would be my heart’s greatest hurt
I respect what we have
And wish to keep it that way while it’s still respected
Keep in touch whenever you can.
I shut my eyes. When I opened them, I read the words again carefully going through each word and imagining John’s remorseful regret as he must have typed this break-up email to me. He couldn’t have told me to my face. He wouldn’t have had the courage. I would probably have learned to beg eventually and he would have been handicapped to do what was truly realistic in the situation we found ourselves.
The tears didn’t have a choice now. Yet in all, I must have cried for twenty minutes, grieving the loss of my love. I wiped my face and cried no more. Suffice to say that my pain and hurt would run deeper than those few minutes of tears for years to come.