Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers overflow it;
Songs of Songs 8:7
The tall dark skinned boy that opened the brown gate to the Mbadiwes’ house looked out of place, Anita thought to herself. He was wearing a brown knee length pair of shorts, his shirt seemed to be grey or off white depending on the angle the sun hit it at. She had never seen him before and she was sure she knew all the Mbadiwes as they had been neighbors all her life.
She waved back shyly at him as he went back into the compound. A few minutes later, he was speeding out of the driveway in an old green Mercedes Benz 500 series. She wondered who he was as she went back into the house to finish helping her mother with breakfast.
“Did you enjoy your fresh air?” Mrs. Nebeolisa teased Anita as she walked in through the kitchen door. Anita smiled, her mother always had a refreshing sense of humor.
“Yes, very much” she replied as she picked up the knife lying on the kitchen counter to finish chopping the onions in preparation for the her father’s favorite breakfast, bread and fried eggs.
About an hour later, her two younger brothers, Mark and Jerry came downstairs to join them in the kitchen.
“Mama, have your seen Dr. Mbadiwe’s first son?” asked Jerry who at fifteen was Mrs. Nebeolisa’s youngest son.
“What first son again? Is Nnamdi not his first son?” Nnamdi was Jerry’s best friend and was the son of Dr. Mbadiwe.
“Noooo, the man had a son before marrying Nnamdi’s mother and never told her” replied Jerry as he stuffed a slice of bread into his mouth.
“Mschew” Mrs. Nebeolisa hissed “these children, instead of reading your books, you are busy helping other people to mind their business, oya leave this kitchen immediately! And with that, she shushed the two boys out. Later that day, Anita saw the boy again. She wondered what his name was.
The following week was busy for Anita. Her mother has relented and was going to let her have a big 18th birthday party. She was agog with planning with her friends to make sure it was fun. The party itself turned out to be a big hit. So many people from her neighborhood were there and she was secretly ecstatic that Nnamdi Mbadiwe had brought his half-brother with him to the party. And when her one of her favorite songs, “Hearts over water” came on, Anita made sure she danced to it with Phil.
A few days later, she was hand delivered a card by Jerry. When she opened it, she saw it was from Phil. It was a simple birthday card but along with it, he had enclosed a little slip of paper with a poem on it
You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace
Anita showed the poem to all her friends until Nnenna whose father was a pastor informed her that particular piece of poetry was taken verbatim from the bible.
“The bible?’ asked Anita stunned “there are love poems in the bible?”
“Yes, oh, its called the “Songs of Solomon” or the “Songs of Song” replied Nnenna knowingly. She was always happy to show off her knowledge of the bible to all her friends. That was one of the few benefits of being a preacher’s kid.
As luck would have it, Anita ran into Phil a couple of days later at “Delectables” the latest popular hangout on Five Cowrie Road. She thanked him for the birthday card as they waited in line to pick up their orders. And when he offered her a ride home, she happily ditched Nnenna and Kaycee. In the car, they discovered they shared a fondness for James Bond novels, Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo and Snoop Doggy Dog’s music. Phil invited her to a friend’s birthday party in Ilupeju the following Saturday and Anita excitedly said yes.
“The days are flying by fast” Anita commented to Phil, as they lay on the floor in Phil’s room trying to fill out their Joint Admission & Matriculation Board forms. She and Phil had been going steady now for about two months. Anita was excited, she wanted to go to the greatest school in the world, University of Lagos to study pharmacy. Phil was wavering between pursuing his dream of being a soldier by going to the National Defence Academy in Kaduna or studying chemical engineering at University of Ibadan.
“That’s because we are having so much fun together” Phil said as he pulled her towards him. Anita stuck her tongue out at him as she rose to her feet.
“I love you to pieces” he said, staring intently into her eyes. A tingle ran down her spine as she responded huskily ‘I love you too” He raised her face to his and kissed her gently on her lips.
“Your lips are like scarlet ribbon; your mouth is inviting. Your cheeks are like rosy pomegranates behind your veil.”
Anita laughed throatily “you are so funny with all your bible quotes”
“I mean them.” He frowned
“So tell me about my legs” Anita teased
“Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman’s hands.” he replied, winking at her.
“That’s in the bible too? Ok what about my nose? She asked
“Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus. Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses” he said quickly
“I think you are just forming this” she told him
“No, I’m not. It’s in the bible truly.
“Ok, my waist nko?”
“Ah that’s easy. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies. Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.” He said as he kissed her again. “I love you. We are going to be together forever.”
“How do you know that?” she asked running her index finger across his lower lip. “Because I know” he replied, nibbling her finger. With his left hand on the small of her back, he lowered her unto the bed and started kissing her toes slowly. He pushed her skirt high across her waist and continued kissing her until he got to her thighs. Anita groaned softly as she wriggled underneath him.
“but my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother,
the favorite of the one who bore her.
The maidens saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her” he whispered into her ear.
“Until the day breaks and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hill of incense.
All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you” he continued.
“Ahhh” he groaned as he got up from the bed and pulled up his trousers, his excitement under his boxer shorts evident.
“What’s wrong?” she asked
“The Songs of Solomon also says “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” he responded quietly. “I will wait, I love you so much, I will wait until we are united before God”
“What if you can’t find me? I may be taken by then” she teased him, shaking her head
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death” he retorted winking at her again
“Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death” Anita repeated “I like that, I will never forget that. That will be our promise to each other”
“Yes oh, ok come let’s continue with what we were doing” he responded as he pulled her off the bed so they could return to filling out their JAMB forms.
Mrs. Nebeolisa glanced furtively at her husband as they ate dinner together. He was unusually quiet. That typically meant there was something on his mind. After dinner, he stormed upstairs to Anita’s door, opening it forcefully with his left hand.
“What am I hearing about you and that useless boy?” her father roared at her “Do you know he is a criminal?”
“Papa, he is not a criminal” Anita cried knowing who he was referring to
“Common, sharrap!” he screamed, raising his huge fist in her face.
Mrs. Nebeolisa stood in the doorway, tears streaming down her face as she watched her darling husband and daughter get into a huge fight. She now realized what was happening. She soon found out Mrs. Mbadiwe had told her husband that she caught Anita and Phil having sex. She was not sure she believed it because she had raised Anita better but she wished Mrs. Mbadiwe had spoken to her privately instead of confronting her husband on his way to work. He had not been happy at all but Mrs. Mbadiwe was a known troublemaker so she was not surprised.
She was also not surprised when her husband arranged for Anita to go to the United States to continue her education because she knew her husband did not do things by half measures and would stop at nothing to make sure Anita did not see Phil again.
Howard University was a world of its own. Anita missed Phil terribly. She wondered how he was doing. Papa had seized her all her diaries and address books and she did not have any means of contacting him. She tried to involve herself in her books and not think about him but it was very hard. But somehow she managed, graduating with a bachelor’s in Chemistry four years later and then continued onto a pharmacy school in Auburn, North Carolina.
Every vacation spent in Lagos had Anita hoping and praying to see Phil again but it was not to be. It seemed he had disappeared off the face of the earth without a trace. Nnamdi Mbadiwe who was her brother Jerry’s best friend told Jerry that a few week after Anita left for the United States, Phil had gotten into a big shouting match with his father and left the house and they had not heard from him since then.
After graduating from pharmacy school, Anita started working in a pharmaceutical company in California. It was in California that she reunited with Obinna. Anita and Obinna knew each other from Nigeria as they had both grown up in Victoria Island, Lagos and had a lot of friends in common. Both of their mothers had even discreetly tried to set them up on a date a few years ago but Anita found out and refused to go on the date because she did not want her mother meddling in her love life.
When they met at a friend’s birthday party, Anita was pleasantly surprised to see how well they meshed. Obinna was now completing his medical residency in pediatrics. For Obinna, this was his chance to woo Anita because he had always liked her from a distance and he quickly tried to sweep her off her feet with his own brand of tender loving care. It was a whirlwind romance and with the blessings of both parents, Anita and Obinna were married within a year.
Even after four years of marriage, Anita still found herself holding on to the side of the car whenever Obinna was driving. He was such an impatient driver and hated stop signs and traffic lights. This night as they were returning from a 50th birthday party, Anita silently wished Obinna would slow down a little as they drove down the Santa Monica freeway. He was also switching lanes frequently. Anita bit her lower lip nervously
“Obi … please” she hesitated, he was a bit tipsy and she did not want to irk him unnecessarily. She never finished that sentence. A huge commercial truck rammed into them from the left lane tossing their Mercedez Benz over the embankment.
Obinna’s death was devastating. It was as if the world had turned on its head. And when she looked into the mirror, the sight that confronted her was too painful to behold. The accident had left her with third degree burns on her face, her back and her legs. The doctors told her she was lucky to have made it out alive. Maybe she would have been better off dead, she thought to herself shaking her head. Her doctors had also told her she would probably never walk again.
“Life is what you make of it” Anita thought to herself as she wheeled herself out of the elevator that led into the lobby of her condominium. She was in a good mood, the therapist that came to her condo twice a week, told her she was making remarkable progress. She was now able to walk short distances. She was also lucky that her employers were letting her work from home instead of having to go into the office everyday. As she moved towards the mailboxes, she saw a vaguely familiar figure turning the corner but the person disappeared before she could take a good look. Anita retrieved her letters from her mailbox and started towards the elevator when she saw him again. This time, he was coming towards her. Her heart lunged into her stomach as she remembered.
Without bid, it came to her lips, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death” The figure stopped. It was Phil
“Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it” he replied as he rushed to embrace her.
“What happened? I have been looking all over for you” he said
“And I have been wondering about you too!” she replied as tears streamed down her cheeks.
“What happened?” he asked again looking her intensely in the eyes as he knelt in front of her, holding her hand.
“Long story” she said as she shook her head as they both got into the elevator. They stayed up the whole night catching up with everything that had been going on in their lives.
“So with all these single women, the only one you want is this one that is half burnt and handicapped?” Dr. Mbadiwe asked disgusted. His relationship with his first son Phil had always been rocky and he was not particularly happy that he was insisting on marrying a widow.
“Oh I’m not asking your permission, Dad. I’m just telling you what I’m about to do” Phil replied stiffly, he was tired of always fighting with his father. He had made it clear that Phil was just an unwanted burden to him and Phil really did not want any part of him either.
As he got into this car after the confrontation with his father, Phil wondered why he bothered. His father had always been distant and condescending towards him. Clearly his father’s distaste for his mother extended to him as well. Moving in with him after his mother died when he was twenty-one was the worst thing that happened to him. His step-mother was determined to make his life miserable and succeeded. The final straw came when his father refused to pay for his tuition into the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna. He just picked up his things and left. He swore never to return. Because he could not afford the tuition at the Defence Academy, his uncle Ebenezer convinced him to take JAMB again which he did and got admitted into Federal University of Technology in Owerri, Imo State to study Chemical Engineering. After he graduated, he applied to a masters program in Cincinnati, Ohio and was pleasantly surprised when he got accepted.
With the help of his maternal uncles, he was able to get enough money for his tuition, housing as well as his airfare. When he finished, he found a job with Johnson & Johnson in California and settled there.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Anita nervously in front of the courthouse jolting him out of his reverie. “You don’t have to, you know” she continued
“Yes, I do. I lost you before, I do not plan on losing you again” he stated matter-of-factly as he planted a big kiss on her lips.
“Now, stop worrying and let’s go” he commanded as he wheeled her into the courthouse. The ceremony was short and sweet, attended only by themselves, Charles and Orly who acted as the witnesses.
“Two years and still going strong” thought Anita to herself as she watched Phil through the kitchen window mowing the lawn. Always kind, always sensitive and always protective, Phil made her forget every wound in her heart and _____
“Aaaah” the cry came from upstairs making Anita turn her head sharply. It was Milagros, their one year miracle daughter. Conceived after all the doctors had told her it was impossible for her to carry a baby to term because of the severity of her burns. Anita ran upstairs to pick Mila as she was called up and then took her outside where they both watched Phil mow the lawn.
As Phil turned to look at them, watching him from the patio, Anita blew him a kiss whispering “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death”