You awake to the very first ring.
Through a dreamy glare, you can see your Nokia doing the dizzy dance of vibration on the reading table. The twinkling fluorescent illumination of the ringing phone is the only lighting in the room.
Sleep had stolen in, and rescued you from the tedium of research and the writing of your Bsc. dissertation. You sit up lazily and drag yourself off the mattress. You know it is Fola even before seeing “Sweetness”, your pet name for him emblazoned on the caller identification.
Only he would call at such an ungodly hour, because of the time zone difference. Fola is in America.
You drop wearily into your reading chair, stifle a yawn and pick the call.
“Babe…” you greet, your palm over your mouth, stifling a bigger yawn.
“Get to the point I have a train to catch…”
That is how he has been for several weeks; terribly rash, calling just when he had to catch a train.
“Your mother, she attacked me again. This time on the road, Fola,” you answer wearily.
You listen to his breathing over the phone. Then you speak quickly, relaying how you had been on your way back from bible study two days ago, humming that it was well with your soul. How it had seized to be well when you had met Mama Fola on the street, and like the well brought up Yoruba girl that you were, you had quickly dropped onto both knees in greeting, even though you and your belligerent mother-in-law- to be were still poles apart.
How she had screamed at you to ‘common sharrap’, and not to kill her with your witchcraft and hypocrisy.
How she had accused you and your family of deliberately hiding the fact that Kola, your elder brother, had gotten an Irish Visa.
How she had heard from a third, or even fourth party about Kola’s eventual journey last week. She had asked pointedly if you imagined that she was a witch who wouldn’t want your brother to travel abroad, and to where sef, she had asked and then answered herself, common Ayaland.
She reminded you and your family that her own son is in Hamerica. Hamerica, she had stressed, complete with one arrogant thumb jerked backwards as if America was located somewhere behind her.
It wasn’t the first time Fola and members of his family were treating you shabbily. For close to a year before you got admitted into the university, you divided the food stuff your mother sent you to buy in the market into two equal halves and gave to Fola so that his family could feed.
His parents never thanked you. And though you wondered about it sometimes, you did not really care.
Fola was your prince.You were in love and love is sharing.
That had been your happy motto until the day Fola had slapped you so hard your head had nearly fallen off your neck.
Why? Because you had told him you may be unable to continue with the food stuff supply since your mother had, for some reason, decided not to send you to the market anymore.
You had explained how you tried to shake your mother off the idea but she had stuck to her gun like tiger leech to flesh.
“You admit failure? You mean you can’t find another way? Is this what I will marry?” Fola had asked you, his eyes crawling up and down your lean frame contemptuously, like a caterpillar.
You had insisted there was nothing you could do about it for now.
You heard the sharp report first, like a gunshot, before raw pain had torn your face into pieces like shards of glass.
You had loathed that dingy bedroom of his from that day onwards. It was funny how you could be repulsed by that bedroom, your little lovers’ world that reeked of camphor and sweat and stolen sex.
The same bedroom in which few months ago, he had taken you, and made you new, and turned you into a woman.
And after he had cleaned you up with such feathery tenderness, he had also helped you remove the bits of yellow foam that had gotten stuck in your hair off his ill-sheated and wrinkly mattress.
And you had watched the sun shine in his dove-like eyes as he did it, your newly bored hole throbbing sweetly-sorely beneath you.
It was funny how you hated not the man, but his two-faced bedroom in which he had given you so much pleasure, and now so much pain.
And you had wept bitterly in his arms as he begged your forgiveness.
You later lied to your parents that the bloody welt in your left pupil was a result of rough play with Anike, the teenage house maid, whom you then shot a warning look not to dare dissent.
Your mother had marched up to Anike and slapped her so hard across the face that the girl had lost her balance and tumbled down the kitchen staircase where she had been standing, blowing off chaff from a tray of beans.
Your father did not say a word. He kept staring at you, glass of whiskey in hand, his face a mask of total but helpless disbelief.
Later in the evening he had asked after Fola, and you had made a face that implied you had no idea, and then muttered incoherence that corroborated your deceitful expression.
That night, after electric power had failed, you sat on the floor of the balcony with Anike, and begged her forgiveness, both of you wondering if rain was about to fall.
Two weeks later, Fola had taken ill.
Because you loved your man so much, everyday, you had secretly cooked your parent’s food and taken it to him in the hospital until he was discharged.
You also helped his family pay part of the hospital bills and buy drugs, all from money you stole from your father’s unwashed laundry.
Weeks after Fola’s discharge and as if on cue, Olabi, his younger brother had taken ill too.
And you had made the mistake of going to see him in the hospital, without food, or money to help pay the bill.
That was the day you offended Mama Fola.
She had not been slow to note, aloud, that you were a hypocrite.
That it was because it was Olabi and not Fola who was ill that you had refused to cook or bring money.
Nothing you said changed her mind. Even the sick Olabi had refused to respond to your greetings as you prepared to leave, turning his gaunt face to the wall.
Fola had muttered a few weak words in your defence, albeit chiding you, with a cowardly smile, to “try and do something o”.
You had smiled weakly as you left, and as you bought and brought with you a pack of Just Juice on your next visit, you had hoped it would bring Olabi untold diarrhoea.
Fola had finally won the American visa lottery, and your second and third year school fee payment had gone into the processing.
And since he got to America, about a year ago, he has not mentioned a word about refunding you. When you had asked him as you approached your final year, he had yelled at you to let him settle down.
For all you know, his life in America essentially consisted of a series of train catching sessions.
“Is that all?” His cold voice jerks you back to the present. You can almost see the contempt dripping through the phone. There is no gainsaying his mother had gotten through to him first. And there is no doubt as to where Fola’s loyalty lay.
“Are you deaf? Answer me! Is that all?”
“You are very stupid. So this is what you have been flashing and sending stupid text messages to me to call you for?”
“Is it not worth it? How long will I continue -”
“Do you know how much it costs to top-up in America?”
You had bought all his MTN recharge cards in Nigeria.
“Don’t ever leverage on my absence again, and engage my mother in a war of words and tell me to call you so that you can tell me about it.”
“I did not engage her in a war of…”
“The next time you try it I will physically come down to Nigeria to teach you a hard lesson, and that will be the last of this relationship.”
“You heard me you…”
“You said something about the relationship.”
“You heard me. It will be the end of us. You hear me? You hear me?”
You suddenly feel a load lift up your shoulders. You feel a tight knot in your belly turn loose, you feel your very spirit levitate. It is 2am but the sun is shining, passionately.
The reality hits you with the force of rushing water. There is such a thing as an end! An end! How come it had never occurred to you?
“Are you listening to me?”
“Clearly, baby.” Your voice is as usual, submissive, yet crystal clear, tinkling, like a bell. There is no point antagonising your enemy when he is digging his own sepulchre.
“Actually I think we should just end this fucking relationship…”
You end the call before he could finish the sentence and throw your hands up in the air.
Your braided head drops between your shoulders in the unrestrained ecstasy of freedom.
You realise with a rush that you have lived the last five years of your life in a gilded cage. Hot tears sting your cheeks.
You hear your phone ring and commence its dizzy dance again. You allow it ring. You are not surprised. His ego could never have been able to take the insult.
You keep your eyes tightly shut, a thousand reddish and bluish bubbles dancing inside them. Your mind flies to Dapo.
He is in Lagos but you could call him now and tell him you were as free as a bird.
That you were free to bask in his love, in the tenderness he exuded so effortlessly, so freely, so maturely. You suddenly ached to see that Mickey Mouse smile he switched on whenever he toasted you with your favourite of his lines -
‘Tunrayo, fe mi now…”
Temptation had been rife. Even before Dapo. There had been Oliver, sweet old Oliver who after a decade was still stuck in the romantic caves of his unreciprocated obsession for you.
There had been others, but you had been resolute because you are a one man woman, even if the man was an asshole living in Hamerica.
Fola had caught you young. He had jailed your will, leaving no ‘self’ left in you.
But then again, he had set you free with his unbridled tongue.
You knew he had spoken on impulse, authoritative, as he liked to, as if he was the very oxygen the whole world breathed.
But that moment had been your renaissance.
Now not only is an end possible, so also is a beginning.
When Fola finally stops calling at about five am, the dawn of a new day in every sense of the word, you pick up your phone and dial Dapo.