Across the Niger Delta
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
He said he could never marry someone younger than him. Young girls are too immature, he would scoff.
I could never marry an Ibibio man, what with my Yoruba heritage and all that. I told him this numerous times.
Despite our differences, we were good friends. So close colleagues thought we were dating. Even while I shook my head and told them no, I secretly wished it were true, for I had begun to nurture images of us both growing old together.
I was a youth corper, going to the Niger Delta state of Akwa Ibom for the first time in my short life, and to tell the truth, I was young. Young but not naïve, only a whopping six years younger than him. He was working full time in the organisation I served with, handsome to a fault and every woman’s dream of a life partner. But I couldn’t even begin to imagine the intricacies of hooking up to someone from that part of the world. How would I begin to learn the language that sounded like Chinese? How could I learn to cook exotic soups with funny names, names like Atanma, Afang, Edika-Ikong?
But we were more than good friends, I finally admitted to myself…and we did do many things together. Like take strolls on the beach of Ibeno, play Scrabble together, attend church functions together…and tell each other everything (well, almost everything) about ourselves.
I was lying on my uncomfortable bed one night when it hit me. I loved Emem. It had crept in on me steadily, a little spark that had become a roaring fire.
“I love you.” I whispered to the dark room, wondering if I would be able to look him in the face the next morning, with this new consciousness.
Of course I did, and we joked and played just like before. Only that his assertion that he could never date someone as young as me now caused me pain. Hot, searing, unbearable pain. Six years was not much of a difference, I told myself silently, and besides I was pretty mature for my age. I didn’t usually let my age slip but whenever I allowed it to, people would look at me in surprise and exclaim, “I never knew that. You look and behave much more older”.
So what was Emem’s hang-up? Couldn’t he give that up, seeing I had changed my mind about his heritage, culture, and strange soups? But I didn’t tell him any of that. For heaven’s sake, in Africa good girls don’t go about asking guys out.
Being a committed Christian, I prayed one Saturday morning like I’d not prayed in a long while. Hey, I didn’t want feelings I couldn’t do anything about. Either Emem took the lead or…
That morning, we went to the beach, and we talked about things we’d never talked about before. I told him of my parents’ divorce and all the heartache that came with it. He listened intently and told me about his own family’s idiosyncrasies. We had a good laugh, but there was a bitter taste in my belly. Was I wrong in loving him?
He sent me a text message that night. I can still remember the exact words. “You are a very wonderful person. But do long distance relationships work?”
The next day, we discussed the pros and cons of dating over a thousand miles, for I was soon due to return to Lagos. The problems seemed insurmountable, but thank God for e-mail and mobile phones.
All this was in the year 2003. In April 2005, I became Emem’s wife in a colourful but very quiet ceremony. Idaraesit, our lovely daughter, joined the party in 2006. Mfonabasi, our rambunctious son made the unit complete in 2010.
If possible, I my husband even more.
And yes, I now prepare Afang and Edika-Ikong soups. And Atanma and Ekpankwokwo. Still cannot get the hang of Editan though.
*A true story dedicated to my husband and kids. You guys rock.