I smiled; things couldn’t be more perfect. Sun was high, the day was clear and i was saying my vows to the love of my life.
There she stood, stunning in her white wedding gown, she shone so resplendently, almost incandescent. Her eyes were locked with mine, every muscle of her fair face twitching with suppressed happiness. She parted her lips for a moment in a silent chuckle, and the gleam of her teeth beamed through.
My heart was beating fast, i could barely contain my joy, and as the priest asked the “Do you take…” question, all i could think of was her, standing just a few feet away from me that I almost forgot to say the customary ‘I do’.
All of these almost did not happen.
10 months ago, we had been lying there, at my apartment, exhausted after making love for most of the afternoon. She snuggled up to me, her face jutting up to meet mine. I stared at those exotic brown eyes of hers and kissed her on the forehead.
“You know, for a moment there as i caressed your boobs, the left one felt weird kind of, as if it was more solid than the other one.” I said, trying to make conversation.
She laughed softly. “So you noticed too. I have been feeling something strange about it for some time; like some growth or something is in there.” Carelessly, she replied, her eyes closing.
I inched away in surprise, trying to get a fuller view of her face, to see if she was serious or not. She did not look as if she was joking.
“What, you mean like a tumour?”
“I don’t know jor.” She moved closer. She always loved some minutes of snuggling after sex, but i denied her that pleasure this time. Instead, i rolled away, stood up and made for my undershorts. Even as i wore it, i could sense her hurt and when i turned back to her on the bed, her normally bright eyes looked dim, almost as if she would begin to cry. She had pulled the bed-spread over her naked body and sat up.
“Why are you behaving like this, ehn?” She asked me, in a very low voice “Shebi it’s my body and i just said its nothing serious but you just want to overblow it.”
I sat on the bed beside her, trying to progress my point by the sheer intensity of my presence.
“Overblow ke? You said something strange was happening to your breast and that was after i had observed it. So you don’t feel like you should go to a hospital and check it out, abi. Or you expect me to just sit down and do as if nothing is wrong?”
“Nothing is wrong!” She screamed, not too loudly. Her eyes flashed angrily and immediately returned to its almost-dim position.
The screaming made me flinch- and to hide it, i stood up and reached for my clothes on the nearby chair, trying not to turn my back to her.
“How can you say that when you have not been to the doctor’s” i began, trying to reason with her “don’t you…”
“Abeg, make i hear word jor. You dey try say i don’t care for my body be that, abi? No even form say you like my body pass me. Before i met you, i have been taking care of myself and i don’t need a nanny to tell me what is wrong or right with my body.” As she said these, she got out of bed, picked her clothes and underwear and made for the adjacent bathroom door. She slammed the door behind her to emphasize her point.
I stood there in the room, feeling a little annoyed but mostly stupid. I could have handled that better.
“You may now kiss the bride” The priest declared.
We both moved closer and our lips touched. The warm, wet, strawberry-flavoured taste of her lips enveloped mine. I swooned, and my heart picked up its already fast pace. It was like tasting strong wine, the buzz was unbelievable. This was not our first kiss, but every kiss with her was special, different in its own way. It took all of my strength to not reach even closer, lift her up and elope from the ceremony.
The crowd was clapping, its perverted sense of lust driving its excited applause. Well, who cared about any of that right now, i definitely did not.
Something else…no, someone else, had taken my heart.
She had her own rented place somewhere on the island, close to her place of work at the headquarters of one of the biggest banks in Nigeria. But she often came over to my Mainland apartment during the weekends. The weekend after our fight, she did not come and all my calls to her, she did not pick it nor did she reply my text messages. I called with a friend’s number, but once she realized i was the one calling, she ended the call. On the Sunday of that weekend, i decided to drive over to her apartment. We had the keys to each of our apartments, so i did not knock, just unlocked the door and went in. I surveyed the block but found nothing different from the last time i was there; it was just the predictable spank and clean, clutter-free flat she loved her living space to be. It seemed emptier, however; as if no-one had been there for a while.
Then i went into her bedroom.
Lying on the bed in a foetal position, barely clothed, was she. My entrance into her home and her room had not made any impact on her. As i stood at the door, i thought she was dead until i saw the steady rise and fall of her body in the unmistakable rhythm of breathing.
I walked to her side and turned her body to face me. Her eyes were bloodshot and lacking in focus, her face drawn and weary; she had a ghostly aspect to her. The windows were not open and the fan or AC had not been switched on, so her sweat had mixed with her tears and half dried on her body and on the bed giving the whole scene a markedly stale smell.
I was alarmed. In her normal state, she would not have tolerated this from anyone but right now she was wallowing in filth, unusually. Something was seriously wrong.
I stood up to get to the bathroom and get water running for her bathe, and a few steps way from the bed, i heard from behind me:
“What do you want?”
I turned. Her eyes were her own now. And a definite look had appeared on her face.
“Hi.” I said smiling and walking back to her side
“What do you want?” A steely edge had crept into her voice.
“Erm…i was worried about you,honey…that’s why i came over. And right now, dear, you are not looking very good.” I knelt beside the bed, her face directly facing mine.
“You still have not answered me. What do you want?”
“Babe, look at you” i began, gesticulating “You look like a rottening piece of fruit, and i don’t know whats up with you but i’m just here to help out. “
She was silent for a short while and as i made to stand up, she spoke:
“I’m fine. And i don’t remember asking you to come over, not to talk of helping. You can leave now.”
I stopped mid-rise. Frustration washed over me. This wasn’t fair, i was only trying to do right by her.
I swallowed hard and rose anyway.
“You know, you’re so full of shit. It’s obvious you are not alright and if its because of the argument we had the other day, then you’re just being foolishly petty.”
“Leave.” She uttered in a whispery voice, like she had started weeping again.
“Okay, i’m leaving” i shouted, throwing my hands up in the air. “You are so difficult to deal with! Ha ha…what should a boyfriend do that i have not done for you. But because we had an insignificant quarrel, you are throwing all we’ve been trying to build away!”
I stormed out of the room, determining not to contact her again until she apologises.
But i also knew something wasn’t right about her and if i wasn’t going to be around her for a while, at least someone else should be. So i made for her bag lying on the table in the living room to get her mothers’ or siblings number.
Her father had died long ago and her mother was a retired teacher living in a remote part of Lagos. She had an elder sister, who was married and lived in the US and a younger brother who had not outgrown the party-phase of adolesence and its accompanying selfishness. He lived only and solely for himself. I wasn’t sure any of them would show up soon enough, but i had to try.
As i rummaged through her bag, a lightly tucked-in sheet fell out. I picked it up and spread it wide. It was an hospital diagnosis result sheet. I scanned through it, then i froze. Everything became clear- the silence, the stupor, everything!
She had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
This was a wicked curveball from life – a 25 year old, brilliant, strong, loving career woman given a potential life sentence.
I dropped the bag and sat down, suddenly exhausted. Now, i could not leave.
Then i heard a miserable heaving, a tearful one. I rushed into the bedroom and found her crying, even more curled up, holding herself. My heart broke, it was not a pleasant sight.
I moved to her and tried to hold her but she squirmed away. Still, I reached out and held her.
She tried to fight me off, and i held on to her. It was a savage struggle. Then she just collapsed and let the tears fall unrestrained.
“I told you to leave” she said amidst her tears “I told you.”
“How can i, babe, how? You should just have told me. You should trust me enough already to know you can tell me anything….oh, honey… you can’t bear all these alone. I’m here. I will always be.”
“So you’ve seen it?” She asked. I nodded, and she wept even more.
We stayed together for some minutes, she was still crying and i did my hardest not to. It would not help her to see me crying.
“Why? Why are you staying? What do you want with me? There are so many beautyful, healthy women out there that are not as difficult as me who will happily go out with you! Why are you staying with me?”
“I love you. You know i do and thats more than reason enough to stay.”
“You say so now, because you just pity me or you are feeling guilty…oh, dear…it won’t last.”
“why are you saying this? You …”
She drew away suddenly and shouted:
“I will be sick and ugly! They will cut off my breast, leave me scarred and give me poison that will make my hair fall out! I won’t be able to go out with you…vomiting everywhere, locked up to avoid infection…you don’t know how bad it will be!”
“And i am a coward who runs away at the first sign of trouble, right? I will love you only when all is good and fine but when things aren’t going our way, i will clear off, Yes?….What do you take me for? You…You can’t even give me a chance to try, to even fu…fuck up if i will?!?” I was kneeling upright on the bed now, greatly agitated.
I placed my hands on her shoulders and drew her closer. I stared straight at her eyes as i said my next words:
“Listen, love. We can go through this together. We can beat this!”
She fell back to the bed and covered her tear streaked face with her hands.
“You’ll hate me, sweetheart. You’ll hate me everyday! You’ll think i tied you up with sickness, you’ll never think right of me again…dear, you’ll never forgive me.”
I moved closer and embraced her with my left hand, my right hand trying to lift her face up to mine.
“Last i heard, cancer is not some sin to be forgiven. I will love you forever and ever, my love. I promise you that.”
“See? You are already making vows you shouldn’t be making. Because i’m sick does not mean you have to be with me despite what is best for you. Maybe, we just weren’t meant to be.” She paused. “Look, darling, you are so handsome, bright with a promising career- the world is at your feet! Keeping you with me in this, will be a crime. There is so much for you to do and be without this impedance…just go…go…i’m saying this from my heart of hearts, sincerely…go..g-go” She really was trying to smile and act as if she had no misgivings in saying this even as i knew her heart was shattered and her soul was in despair.
I could not help it, i started to cry
“Don’t!” She said, reaching to dry my tears “Don’t, babe. I love you too, but sometimes love is not enough. We have to face reality too.”
“How dare you?” I muttered “How dare you tell me to go, as if i was an inconsequential part of your life! If i say i’m staying, you better make space for me! You think this is easy for me too, you think watching you in this agony is just perfect enough for me to see it as a chance to walk away? Think more of me, for crying out loud. Think!!”
The next door neighbour may have heard that last word considering the volume at which i said it.
For a moment she just stared at me, then just like that, she clung to me.
“Oh my dearest one, how cutely ignorant you are…how stupid…and i love you even more for it.” She still was weeping
I let her hold me while i tried to stop crying.
We were together like that for many minutes, till i forced her to bathe and clean up while i made dinner. She never talked about it again that day and neither did i, as we just basked in the presence of each other.
Except for that minute in the small hours of the morning when she wondered why providence thought it right for her to have that cancer. She was not the first to pose that question to the tyrannic majesty of fate and happenstance, she will not be the last. But it is useless asking; one just takes what one gets from the vissicitudes of life and try one’s hardest to make the best of it.
Later, she told me she had gone for a scan of her breasts after work on Thursday and went to get the result on Saturday after leaving a friend’s marriage event. The Doctor told her, as delicately as he could, that she had breast cancer. All of the later comments and advise as to the options available for her treatment had gone half unheard. She did not even know how she managed to drive back home, but once at home, she had removed her glad rags, put on some skimpy housewear and just lain on the bed in a tear-suffused, sleepless, seeming cataleptic stupor till the next day that i had come around.
The Recessional Hymn began. My hands linked with her and i saw a thousand lovely secrets swirling around in the brown pool of her eyes; secrets that would be revealed that night and for years to come. The soft skin of her hands melded with mine as we walked down the aisle, as a married couple, sworn to each other, before God, our Family and our Friends, till death do us part.
Suddenly, a hand tapped my shoulder, and i turned. It was a man in a dark suit, he’s eyes held pity for me – Why? I wondered.
“Its your turn to speak now.” He said.
“Speak?” I asked, bewildered. “For what?”
“The Eulogy, sir.”
What craziness was this? An eulogy at a wedding?
I looked behind the man, and i did not see the wedding train or the gaily adorned altar – just sitted rows of people in dark, funereal attires.
I swung sideways to see my new wife. But instead of standing erect, i was sitted, my hands hanging by my side and the sobbing mother of my bride sat beside me in her black dress and dark sunglasses. My bride was nowhere near.
I looked around: about me was a graveyard, a private one by the neatness of the place and i was seated in a burial ceremony. A man-i recognized as her younger brother- was speaking from a slim, wooden pulpit and beside him on the mantelpiece was a blow up of my lover’s beautyful face.
It became obvious at that instant to me that this was her ceremony: she was dead.
The wedding was a dream, the funeral was the reality.
I turned to the man, and beckoned him closer. Taking a guess, i asked: “did she die from breat cancer?”
He looked at me funnily, as if i was slightly insane before answering:
“Yes, everyone knows that. Now you have to give your eulogy, no time to waste.”
The brother was leaving the pulpit. Still in shock as to the strange turn of events, i walked to the pulpit.
Looking at the audience, i wondered where to begin eulogizing her.
How could i narrate in simple words her life that was grander than mere language could fathom or how could i describe the graciousness of this gem of a woman who gifted me with the treasure of her love. How?
Gripping the pulpit dearly, I sighed.