“Yemisi, pack into the store quickly” I heard my mother’s voice. I hastened to bundle the umbrellas that where sampled at the door of the shop. A smile started on my face, I had been thinking about Kofi, again. I kept analyzing the way he spoke to me, the last time we had a conversation. I thought about his deep eyes and his face. “That face of his…” I thought. “Does he actually love me?” I wondered.
I bit my smiling lips gently as I stood there reminiscing, having no idea that my mother was staring right at me. “My pikin na the weather dey sweet you so?” She said shaking her head with a smile on her face.
I met my mother’s eyes blankly with embarrassment. I quickly carried the plastic chair by my side, to seat inside the store. The rain was increasing its downpour as we moved inside.
Rumuigbo junction, buzzed with activity that Saturday as people hurried to get into a shelter. A young lady dressed in a grey gown ran into our store. “Good afternoon, Madam”, “good afternoon” she said again; making a hand gesture now in my direction and smiling.
I didn’t smile back; she turned quickly to look at the rain in front her.
The look she gave me had the impression that she had taken me to be a very young lady who came to help out her mother.
It was a thing of pride that I looked younger than my age but when people begin to show disrespect, I like to let them get the sign that maturity and responsibility does not look at sizes. I felt averagely accomplished because I was a chartered accountant at the age of 27 and I knew what it took for me to get there.
I had rented a shop for my mother to keep busy. So, I occasionally visited her when I had the time.
My mother had started planning out the cooking items; that would be needed for my traditional marriage. Yes, I was about to be married when things started transpiring between I and a friend of mine, Koffi; I had met at my office just a month ago. He first came with his boss to require our services to audit a part of their finance department in their military base, the chief of army staff was asking questions and they his boss didn’t want to go down for it. This made Koffi somewhat frequent to my office since he was the one running all the errands as regards receipts and files.
Kofi was a corporal in the Nigerian Army. He was too handsome for a soldier; he was dark, tall and surprisingly brilliant. I could hardly hold out a reason why I was so into him. There was just a part of me that related deeply with him, I felt I had known him for a long time. I would look for reasons to make him come around, so I could be with him. We would sit and chat about anything. But there was this coldness about him I knew I had to patiently beckon on, before it thaws and opens up to me.
I hadn’t seen a different view of life until now. He was very funny and could bring meaning into the tiniest little things; it made it very easy to tell him things about myself, like it was easy to get comfortable with him, in so many ways. We were alike, and yet we had so many differences physically.
Kofi didn’t talk much but he intrigued me even more with our conversations marked by repartees. I would probe him with questions just to know more about, he would rather keep cool and answer me when need be.
On his second visit to my office, I asked him, “What do you think about the elections”
“Politicians?” He remarked. “Just let them are.”
“Why do you think that a military president is what we need?”
“Who said he is a military president?” he asked. “He is only an ex-military president but now contesting as a civilian.”
`yes’ but you see”, I chuckled as I replied him.
“You are beautiful” he said, cutting into the conversation. “Your smile is very fine, fine set of teeth.” he said again. When are you getting married? He asked glancing at my fingers. His face showed no emotion, but his eyes quickly came back to my face. “Ok”, I said and continued talking quickly. I imagined myself as beautiful as he had described, not that I didn’t know it before, just that the way he described me made me feel like I was a project that needed that much study as he had done.
“Thank you, ma” the lady in the grey gown said, while throwing a glance at me. This brought me back to reality.
She left the store and continued her walk because the rain was now in drops. I was thankful for the distraction.
My mother had been checking her record books, while I sat in my reverie holding a John Grisham’s Novel.
“Yemi,” my mother called. “You know you have not picked the kind of clothes you want to wear.”She started describing the kind of material she wanted me to wear on that day. She showed me the list that she had written for the food and the girls they had picked to do some dancing. “Am I supposed to be excited about this?”I asked myself. Maybe I am making a mistake, marrying the one am marrying; I didn’t feel like I was ready anymore. But I loved Chris; I was still lost in my thoughts; while my mother talked.
I was trying to convince myself; but I knew deep down why I was marrying Chris. He was a good man; he cared and treats a woman well. He had a good job and he knew his responsibility as a man. This was why I agreed to marry him.
I had given my colleagues at the office a bottle of wine and they had all cheerfully told me congratulations. Koffi came into my office that day, while I stood bending over my table as I arranged the few cards on it and set my files I heard the door click and turn to look at him. He smiled as our eyes met, “You didn’t tell me your wedding was soon, you would rather I overhear it?” he said, still staring into my eyes. A daring me would never look down on such a stare. I didn’t know if I missed a bit or I was too stunned to do anything when I saw it coming, he came close, cupped my face in his hands and kissed my cheek. My heart raced far and my mind went ahead and caught it in its tracks. I took a step back but I was wedged by the table. “Yemi, congratulations” he said. “koffi, please I think you should leave. ” I said with a shaky voice. I couldn’t let myself admit anything. I knew that he knew better because my response to his kiss betrayed me, anyway he left my office.
But like I was saying I was planning for my wedding now.
Yet, these pasts days kept replaying in my mind. I felt like abandoning the marriage, yet I couldn’t, I also couldn’t stop thinking about koffi, his kiss, his eyes, the way he looked at me and the feeling of being with him.
I cut into the conversation, “Mummy, what do you think about one who marries a soldier? “Why would a woman aspire to do such in the first place?”She retorted. Her brows were raised to form a knot on her forehead.
“Well ehm” she paused, “unless it’s a woman who has no ambition of her own.” “Those people, they are never around their family,” she made hand gestures as she spoke and shook her head. “Very unstable people and you know they can be called at any time and their lives are over.” She said as though she wanted to properly qualify their instability. “They would normally just pick a young girl who knows nothing of life and turn her into a house wife or a widow.”
I expected the response she gave but yet it puzzled me, I wondered why the talk about them felt like it was a talk of outcasts. People who were too far from reach, At least this was the way I felt about it. Koffi told me his father had been a soldier. His mother now a widow and his elder brother had also taken up the military career. I didn’t have the courage to say a word back because at the slightest hint of having such inclination would really make her surprise. My family would never approve.
We did all the big planning and the big day came. When all the dancing and palm wine drinking had been done. I sat with my husband. The deed was done. I was so engrossed in doing all the rites of the ceremony that I didn’t have time myself to feel the deep meaning of all the acts that we did. Well, at least we were now married . I spotted Koffi, he came. In fact, to be precise, I felt he was around. He had been looking at me without my noticing; when I finally noticed I pretended not to have noticed. I saw him smiling, yet you could see the loss in his eyes still filled with love. The excitement of his presence bubbled inside me even as I sat near my husband. I wasn’t smiling or sad, I was just funnily grateful . It wasn’t everyday someone felt loved and the special excitement and bubbles of seeing someone that turns them head over heels, but why did he show up in my life when I was almost married? I knew what I had lost. He would never know it but it pained me as much as it pained him. I turned to my husband and looked at him while the camera took shots of us. He didn’t make me feel this way. But I chose him; I decided to love him, to give him everything a wife could give to her husband.
My husband leaned towards me and whispered into my ear “You are looking at me with such love in your eyes” I smiled at the thought of that. My eyes searched for Koffi, maybe he was gone, because he wasn’t where he was sitting anymore. I wondered about the woman that would take the place of my husband in his life. I didn’t need to wonder what I and Kofi would have been like, because I knew; it would have been just like I felt; bubbles and excitement. We were called to dance some more, I and my husband.
It wasn’t long after my wedding that Koffi told me over the phone that he was deployed to Maiduguri to combat the Boko Haram insurgents. “Koffi you know, you don’t have to go you can leave the military, let’s work something out.” I told him. “Come on, Yemi, you know better, someone has to do the dirty work. I will be fine.” After that day he rarely answered my calls. I though in my heart that we would remain distant friends, He was very important to me. I and my husband took a trip to Calabar to enjoy the calmness of the city and its natural environment; there was something about its city roads that you rarely find in other cities. The environment calls you to interact with nature. It made me appreciate the little time I had shared with Kofi, even more.
We came to back to Port Harcourt and settled in to start a family.
The bombshell came that evening, as we saw the news that read that 42 soldiers from the 7th infantry division had been killed by the insurgents. I stared at the television that evening again and again. It had being their batch, but Koffi couldn’t have been part of it, I thought.
I looked around franticly for my cell phone “My dear, what is it.”My husband’s voice loomed close to me. There was a lump in my throat. I raised my hand to the TV set, then I stood up to leave the room, my husband followed me.
“Yemisi, tell me; what is going on”
“Koffi” was the only word that I could utter. I left the house quickly, entered my car and drove through the roads.
The Port Harcourt city roads that night; where packed with cars, yet I drove at high speed.
“I could have loved him, just loved him and that would have been enough.”
“He needed it, he deserved it; a family, anybody” I kept talking to myself as I drove.
I called the number; I used to reach him. It wasn’t available; I cleaned the tears that poured from her eyes. Then I remembered; Majid his friend, I could call Majid.
His voice was rough at the other end, “you have seen the news”? “What does it mean Majid”, “what does it mean?” I responded.
He was a fine man, Yemi;
“Yemisi, I am so sorry, they saw this coming, and they knew it would be a slaughter” “Oh, No…Majid,” I sobbed.
A hundred men could have replaced him, anybody not Koffi.” I packed the car in a bank’s car park and leaned on the steering with the ignition ‘on’, I let the tears flow. I didn’t know the questions to ask. I felt like taking the whole world to court.
“Someone has to do it, Yemisi” I remembered him saying.
By the time I drove home, it was 11:30 pm; I crept into the guest room to sleep. My husband sat on the sofa all night. I had refused to talk back to him, he repeatedly asked me what was wrong and I just walked around in silence.
After three day I told Chris I was going to stay in my mom’s for a while. It was just two weeks into our marriage and I was being very difficult to manage.
I had never had to regret anything in my life as much as I did my relationship with Koffi. I should have loved him; it was difficult for me to absolve myself of that guilt. I discovered that there where dreams turned into reality in your life that was worth throwing everything away for, if it got to that point. It was a new me, fighting for sincerity in my soul.
My koffi, lay in the midst of dust, buried with other corpse or torn by bullets and shrapnel, I didn’t know which.
I stayed at my mother’s place for a week, Chris would come and check up on me, but I only agreed to see him once. My mother tried to talk me into going back to my marriage. I told her I needed time. Chris talked with her most of the time trying to find out how I was; I wondered why he never threatened to end the marriage. He was a good man, and I didn’t know or care if I deserved him. I was just sore in pain.
By the time I went back to my husband’s house, I had forgiven myself and I came to understand Koffi’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of all the men that were with him, it wasn’t about me anymore and my Job.
He inspired me to give back to the world and inspire younger generations to build a world of social order. I started extramural classes in the outskirt communities where I wanted to teach the students subjects in math and use the opportunity to inspire them to build a life and not destroy or steal. To build up youths that would ask for transparency and accountability from a government, youths that would care and give. My husband was grateful to have a sane wife again after I told him the truth about Koffi and my life was not just all about number crunching and practicality anymore.
by Winnifred Omelogu from Nigeria