I gripped my hands so tightly, my nails pierced through my palms and drew blood but I didn’t feel the pain. The pain I felt was somewhere else, deep in my heart where no one could see it. I stared up at the building and wondered, what am I doing here? But I know all too well what I’m doing here. I’m here for what my psychiatrist calls closure. Closure from Matthew. Matthew! Just the thought of that name is enough to make my hands clench involuntarily tighter. It’s been four years and the gaping wound in my heart seems as fresh as ever.
I’m here to try and heal that wound. My psychiatrist says I have to face Matthew and tell him what he did to me and how I feel, let him know the betrayal is his own failing, not mine then I have to forgive him and let go. Only then can my healing process start.
It had made sense when he said that, so much sense that I had agreed and booked a flight to Nigeria and had come down to Lagos. It had made sense as I sat beside my father as we drove home from the airport. It had made sense as I hailed a taxi after dropping my luggage at home, and gave the driver the Ogba address Matthew lived four years ago. It had still made sense when I discovered he was no more living there and none of the new occupants knew of him, so much sense that I had got another taxi and come to the office.
But now, standing in front of the building that housed the office where he worked, or rather, had worked four years ago, it didn’t make so much sense anymore. It seemed a really stupid idea right now. I don’t even know if he still works here and if he does, exactly what am I going to tell him? Can I even face him? The man I had once loved more than life itself, before he ripped my heart apart.
As a child of divorced parents who now had separate families, I had never really belonged. I had spent my childhood shuffling between my mom and my stepfather and two new stepbrothers in Virginia, United States and my father and his wife and still growing family of two girls and a boy in Lagos, Nigeria. I was a misfit in both families. Not that I was made to feel unwanted, but I didn’t belong and I knew it. I was the mistake child from the failed marriage. So, I tucked my head in and tried not to be noticed, to blend into the background. It wasn’t difficult. On my best day, you can spare me a first glance; on other days, I am invisible. At five foot three, with a plain round face and plump, dumpy body, I was never going to inspire passion in anyone and I was okay with that. Until Matthew.
Matthew made me want more from life and he gave me that more. With him, I was more than a plain Jane; I was a woman, his woman. From that day in 200level, Ife, when he bent his six foot two frame to peer up my lowered head and then sat beside me to join me in staring at the uneven grass between my feet, I was besotted. He was the only man to pay me any attention and whenever I asked him what he saw in me, he would stare at me as if he could not believe I was actually asking him such a question, then he would take my face in his hands and kiss me so gently and so sweetly, tears would come to my eyes.
Easily one of the most handsome and popular guys on campus, Matthew could have any girl he wanted but he chose me. That of course made me the target of malicious gossip, after all, it’s not every day you see the love story of Handsome and the Beastess but I shrugged it all off. Safe and secure in the love of my Matthew, nothing could penetrate my bubble of joy, especially not the talks from envious ladies who called me ‘One of the Multitudes’ insinuating that he had a whole bunch of us in hand. He couldn’t help the fact that women threw themselves at him, but as he told me often, I was the only one for him.
With Matthew, I belonged. He was my home. All that year, I was deliriously happy and not even my roommate and only friend’s dislike for Matthew could dim my joy. Of course I wished Temi would not be so antagonistic to my boyfriend but I forgave her because she had fallen for the lies spread around campus about him and she was just trying to watch out for me. I held on to the hope that she would come around, seeing as he was so charming and always went out of his way to be nice to her.
At the end of that academic year, Matthew, already in final year graduated and went to serve in Lagos while I moved on to 300level. Not having him anymore in school with me was hard but I went often to Lagos and saw him almost daily during the holidays I spent in Lagos rather than going to the Sates to be with my mom.
After the service year, Matthew was retained in the oil marketing company he had served. With full employment came more working hours and pressing job demands. We couldn’t see each other as often as before, especially with the frequent official trips he now undertook for his boss but I understood and supported him. I missed him but I wasn’t going to stand in his way. I determinedly and cheerfully encouraged him to give the job his all. He was working for our future, wasn’t he? As it turned out, he wasn’t working for OUR future, he was working for HIS.
I’ll never forget that day when Temi sat me down in our room and put a brown envelope in my lap. I’ll never forget the horrified disbelief as I flipped through pictures of Matthew with another woman, the kind of woman I would never be- tall, slim and beautiful. But the worst were the pictures of them in complete native attire, anko, kneeling down to be prayed for; dancing as they were being sprayed with cash; holding each other as they cut a huge three tiered cake; she kneeling in front of him to feed him cake. They were wedding pictures; a traditional wedding!
I had handed the pictures back without a word and stepped out of the room, heading blindly for the park. My one thought to get to Lagos, to Matthew. If I could see him, he would explain and I would understand that it was not what it seemed. I was sure there was a rational explanation, I just had to get to Matthew and everything would be alright.
But everything was not alright. As I alighted from the taxi, I saw Matthew, my Matthew coming out of the office building with the same woman in the picture, holding her, kissing her, laughing with her. And my heart broke as I realized nothing would be alright again.
I cannot remember how I got home but I remember standing in front of my father and screaming hysterically that I wanted to go to Virginia. I remember staring into nothing all through the flight. I remember entering my room and locking myself inside. After that the days were a blur. I simply existed from one day to the next.
I didn’t return to Ife, I never wrote my final exams and I did not explain to either of my parents why. Actually I didn’t do much talking. Everyone tiptoed around me for the first year till the start of the second year when my mom burst into my room one day and told me she had got me a shrink and I could either go see him or go back to Nigeria. Going back to Nigeria was no option so I went to the shrink.
It took six sessions before I spoke a word and another eight sessions before I mentioned Matthew’s name. After that, the story came tumbling out and with it the pain and a surprising anger and humiliation. Prince Charming seduces kitchen girl, kitchen girl falls for Prince Charming then Prince Charming dumps kitchen girl and goes off with the Princess. It was such a real life cliché, it made me cringe with shame that I could have fallen for that. But my hurt was very real. And I carried it round with me even as I tried to put my life back together over the next couple of years.
It was that hurt my psychiatrist finally told me I had to face before I can truly be whole again, which is why I am standing here in front of the building I had seen Matthew and that woman a short lifetime ago.
“Can I help you?” a voice beside me jerked me out of my painful memories. I looked up and saw a man with two women beside him staring curiously at me.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I er . . . . . I’m looking for, er, Matthew Oyedeji” I stammered, gathering my failing courage.
“From where?” the man asked me suspiciously
His suspicion triggered something in me and I was suddenly determined to see my mission through. I put on my best Americana accent, “From the United States. I have a message for him from a friend”
It had the desired effect, I could see the suspicion fade swiftly and a warm smile grow to take its place.
“Matthew has closed for the day, but I live not far from his area. If you don’t mind, I can take you to his house” he offered.
Go to Matthew’s house?! See him with that woman?! Matthew and another woman, his wife?! My courage faltered again. Unfortunately for me, the man took my silence as assent and started leading the way to an old Peugeot car parked along the road. The two women smiled at me and followed behind him. I had no choice. I followed.
The women got in the back and left me to climb into the front seat beside the man. He tried to make small talk as he drove but my stilted monotonous responses soon silenced him and he took to talking instead with the two women in the back seat. I let their chatter wash over me as I stared out the window with dread, thinking of the looming confrontation before me.
Too soon, we were pulling into a close the man beside me said was the close where Felix lives. He parked in front of a big duplex and got out. My heart was pounding so loudly, it took me some time before I heard the high pitched female voice raining curses and abuses at screaming volume.
I got out of the car and went to stand beside the man near the open gate. I saw Matthew first, standing within the large compound in front of the house. He was exactly as I remembered him. I could hardly take my eyes off him as I felt anger well up in me. He had used me, abused my love, lied and cheated on me. I welcomed the rage. It would make it easy to confront the bastard.
I started forward then paused as I noticed the woman holding on to his tie in a vicious lock. I took a second look, and another, and another. It was hard to recognize the woman screaming shrilly as the same woman I had seen in the photographs four years earlier. Yet, there was no doubt that it was the same woman. She was now one mountainous blob of fat. The sexy figure eight buried under rolls of fat. Her eyes barely discernable under the encroaching cheeks. Her triple chin shook with each obscenity spewing out of her mouth accompanied with flying saliva even I could see clearly from where I stood. She had a dirty brown wrapper tied under her armpit and an even dirtier supposedly black hair net struggling to cover what seemed to be hair that had not made the acquaintance of a comb in months. Sweat rolled off her in fat drops. The elegant beauty I had been thrown over for was nowhere to be seen in this human mass. I could not stop staring.
The two women had gotten out of the car and were standing beside me. “Na wah o, which kin wahala Matthew put himself so?” one of them muttered, shaking her head.
“Na wetin he find, he see” the other replied scornfully.
“I go because I wan chop meat come dey call cow broda? Make he leave her now” the first one persisted.
“Leave Chief pikin?! Na death be dat” the second exclaimed.
I turned slowly from the sight in front of me and looked at the women questioningly. The second one was only too happy to oblige me. “Matthew married the only daughter of Chief, our chairman because of money . . . . . . . .”
“Haba! Clara, who tell you say na because of money?” the first one interrupted.
My storyteller merely hissed and continued, “The woman is worse than a devil. From day one of the marriage, na fight. She suspects his every move and follows him everywhere. If she sees a woman talking to him, she will beat the woman and beat Matthew. Even if she doesn’t see any woman with him, she will still find reason to cause wahala. You cannot begin to imagine how many places she has disgraced him. Office o, road o, church o, it makes no difference to her. And he cannot do anything about it. She is her father’s pet and he will deal with anyone who tries anything with her. Who doesn’t know Chief in this Lagos? He controls all the thugs in this state. Every political officer is in his pocket because they need his support to get to power. He is Baba Isale, the original godfather. Matthew cannot try anything lailai. He’s in this marriage for better for worse. That woman will kill him one day. And she never born o. Her wahala no go gree her born sef. Abeg, me I dey go before she go see me, say na me dey friend her husband” With that, she turned and went back inside the car.
I turn back to face the scene before me. The woman, Matthew’s wife was clapping her hands mockingly in front of Matthew now, her arm flaps shaking like jelly. She was shouting, “Olosi, Olori buruku. Alai lojuti okunrin” “ooooooooh” she clapped her palm repeatedly against her mouth, ululating scornfully.
I could see neighbors peeking out at them from behind windows and doors but no one came out. This was obviously a familiar sight in the neighborhood. She suddenly reached out and shoved Matthew. He staggered and almost fell, but managed to stay on his feet. I focus on his face. The smooth handsome face I had known so well was marred with deep lines now. He looked years older than his age. A young man who had reached middle age prematurely. Bracketing his eyes were stress wrinkles and etched deeply around his mouth was the sag of despair. His shoulders were stooped and rounded, no more the erect proud stance I remembered. I was looking at a beaten defeated man.
I can’t help myself; I throw back my head and start laughing. The sound of my laughter jars the woman, Matthew’s wife and she turns to stare at us standing by the gate. Matthew turns too. I see the shock of recognition on his face followed almost immediately by shame. All attention is on me now. Even from the neighbors peeking out, but I cannot stop laughing. Fuck confrontation, fuck forgiveness, this is so much better.
The Princess has turned to the evil ugly haggard witch and Prince Charming is stuck with her! Who says Nemesis is not alive and kicking and hard at work?
Still laughing, I turn and start walking down the close, ignoring all the eyes on me. I feel so light and free. Free of the pain I had carried for four years. It takes me a moment to realize the wound in my heart is gone. Not just healed, gone! As if it had never been there.
What did my psychiatrist call this trip again? Closure! Oh, yeah, I got closure all right.