Jeta stared at the woman in the car in complete shock. He could not believe what he was seeing. One minute, he was screaming at his wife who brazenly skipped the night at their home because she thought he wasn’t due back in town until the next day, the next, he was looking into the eyes of the only woman he had ever loved.
Roughly pushing Natalie and her high-pitched squawks of protestation aside, he hurried down the porch towards the car where the woman was staring at him too in a mixture of blind panic and shock.
“No!” He cried as she finally recovered and began to make a u-turn. “No, wait!”
But she didn’t listen. Clearly, she was still as stubborn as she had always been. He stared at the back of her retreating car, his heart pounding as he called out the name that hadn’t crossed his lips in over five years.
Falling in love with Dunni right from the very first time he had met her had been no trouble at all. She had had no trouble with it either. It had been the falling out of love part that they had both been miserably failed at. They first met at a mutual friend’s birthday party. She bumped into him while munching appreciatively on a cupcake and managed to smear some of the icing on him.
He remembered that he had prepped himself to give her a serious talking-to but she had looked up at him with such contrition in her huge, kohl-rimmed eyes that all he had done was stutter. “Hi-ii, my name…is Jeta.”
She had beamed at him then. “Dunni. Let me get that for you!”
And quickly, she had gone to fetch some water and a napkin, and had helped him get off the icing from his waist coat before the stain could set.
By their third date, they were inseparable. Being with her was like being with a rebellious reflection. Never in any of his previous relationships had he felt such an immense need to put his partner before everything else. His other girlfriends had always complained about they could never tell that he loved them. With Dunni, nobody – including her – had to ask. They just knew.
It was in his eyes, his smile, and his whole demeanor whenever he was with her. It was in the way his hand remained latched to hers whenever they were out. It was in the way he proudly introduced her to everyone as his girlfriend and in the note of pride that crept into his voice when he did so too. It was in the way he softly kissed her forehead whenever he caught her frowning. It was in the way he would ruffle her hair tenderly not minding the countless times she would look at him in reproach.
They shared the same sense of humor and they could talk about everything. She was his biggest fan, his biggest supporter, she took a pure, genuine interest in everything he did and yet, she wasn’t afraid to differ from him, wasn’t afraid to argue with him. She always spoke her mind but was gracious about acquiescing to his final decision the very few times he insisted on having the final say. He knew after the first four months that this was the girl he was going to marry because Dunni, she was not perfect, no, she was just…right.
Ah yes, falling in love had been no trouble for them. It was falling out of love that had been the real headache. And fall out of love they had been forced to do, especially when he had insisted on them going with their heads and not their hearts. He had insisted on making the biggest mistake of his life.
It had started the day he brought her home to meet his widowed mother.
“Ah, this one is a Yoruba girl o!” His mother had clucked when Dunni came in and curtsied respectfully. To his relief, she had managed to remain very cordial, even friendly, for the rest of Dunni’s visit, so much so that Dunni had said to him happily when she was leaving, “I think she likes me, thank God!”
But the second Dunni had left, his mother had launched into a tirade about how Yoruba women were not trustworthy, how they had dirty hygiene, how they didn’t wash their children well and kept money in their panties. She had gone on and on before switching into a lament, asking why he wanted to kill her before her time, after all, he knew he was all she had yet he wanted to bring a stranger into their home. On and on she had gone until he had had to plead a headache just to get her to stop.
His mother had not stopped there though. Instead, she had gone ahead to research about Dunni’s family, inadvertently discovering in the process that infertility ran on Dunni’s mother’s side of the family due to an undiagnosed medical condition that had plagued her mother’s mother and great-grandmother before her.
Dunni had already told him that it had taken a good clip of time – over twelve years – for her mother to become pregnant with her and that she was unable to have any child after that. That fact had never bothered him until now. In fact, they had even talked about facing the possibility of not having children or having to broaden their options in lieu of. But with his mother’s drama, he had started to admit to himself that the possibility of waiting a long time to have children, or not even having them at all, disturbed him more than just a little. After all, weren’t children the crown of a man’s head?
Hesitantly, he had brought the issue up with Dunni. Would she mind if they both went to the doctor’s for check-ups just to make sure that everything was in working condition? She had acquiesced bemusedly. The doctor had been of the firm opinion that they would be fine. There was the possibility that childbearing might be delayed, he had told them, but otherwise, everything looked fine. Besides, did they know that there were other options these days – adoption? IVF?
“We’re not getting married just to have kids, anyway!” She had teased as they left the doctor’s. He had barely been able to muster a smile back in response.
With his mother constantly harping in his ear, he had slowly began to see things in a different light and before long, he had found himself dropping not so subtle hints about his not being able to deal with the likelihood of being childless if they eventually got married.
Dunni had finally snapped one afternoon. “Jeta, what’s going on here? I never hid the fact that I was probably going to have a harder time than most getting pregnant. Why, you even said that you weren’t that fond of children anyway! So, why are you acting brand new all of a sudden? I thought we were of one mind on this.”
“We are!” He had protested feebly. “I’m just…”
She had cut him short. “Because I can’t go on with you if we aren’t on the same page. I can’t do this if you’re not as convinced as I am that we can make this work, regardless of whether or not we have kids. I refuse to go on with you if you’re not firmly on my side because then it’ll just be so easy to tear us apart. So if you know you’re not ready to face the odds which you already knew, maybe we should call it a day.”
And so, he had. He had called it a day.
To date, he had never forgotten the look in her eyes when he had done so – a mix of the bitterest betrayal, shock, anger and sorrow all rolled in one.
“Wow!” was all she had been able to mutter after he had parroted the short, terse breaking-up speech he had rehearsed over and over again. She had picked up her bag, tears glistening in her eyes though she refused to let them fall, and walked right out of his house and out of his life. He had not seen or heard from her since that day despite his numerous attempts to reach out to her so they could at least remain friends.
“Friends?!” Her best friend had spat at him the one time his call was actually picked up. He couldn’t have known that her best friend had grabbed the phone away before she had been tempted to pick it up herself. “Leave her alone, you weak monster! Haven’t you hurt her enough? Leave her alone!!”
He had had panic attacks in the nights long after she was out of his life. Had he made the right decision? Would he regret letting her go? Would he ever fall in love again the way he had with her? All he wanted to do was pick up the phone and tell her he had made a terrible mistake. He just wanted to hold her and tell her he loved her but her best friend was right, he would only be turning a knife in the wound he had already made.
His heart warred with his head. He hated that he couldn’t be stronger, that he couldn’t face the odds and damn them to hell, that he couldn’t keep all the promises he’d sworn he’d keep for her. He tried to tell himself that he was only doing the right thing for both of them in the long run but the hollowness in his heart seemed to belie that.
A year later, he had read about her wedding nuptials in one of the society papers. A year and a half after that, he had let himself being guided into a marriage, no, a wedding with the next Ibo girl who happened along. Natalie was his mother’s cousin’s friend’s sister’s daughter. “Her mother had five boys!” His mother had crowed, approval decorating her voice.
It had turned out to be the second biggest mistake of his life. Natalie had quickly realized that she was only going to be a repository for his lust and so had quickly set out to have her own affairs, albeit as discreetly as possible. The five-year sham of a marriage had produced no children, to his mother’s continually voiced disappointment. He had spent every single day of the past five years, regretting the day he chose to walk out of Dunni’s life.
And now, here she was, racing away in her car before he even had the chance to say a word. He panicked at the thought of never seeing her again. His heart in his throat, he raced back up to the porch where Natalie was still waiting and staring at him in surprise.
“What’s going on?” She demanded. “Do you know that woman?”
He pushed past her and her stupid questions, hurrying up to his study where his filofax was. He fished out the number of a long-lost mutual acquaintance of Dunni’s, prayed the number was still active, and proceeded to do some detective work. One way or another, he would find her again, he swore.