It was the happiest day of his life. Nnamdi didn’t think he’d know a happier moment since that morning he looked into Ariana’s eyes as she said, “I do” in front of his family and friends. Theirs wasn’t the typical fairy tale romance with rose petals and scented baths, candle light dinners in fancy restaurants, stolen kisses in the moonlight, long walks in the beach and Linda Ikeji blogging about their wedding plans as if they were Banky W and Adesua Etomi. For him, it was just a knowing that after the heart-wrenching breakup of an engagement that lasted three years, he had finally found love. True love.
Ariana was everything he wanted in a woman he desired to grow old with. She was the earth that grounded him and the oxygen that sustained his beating heart. Although she was beautiful in a way that could easily outclass those stick-thin girls that strangely have become the yardstick for beauty and perfection the world over, it wasn’t the first thing you noticed about her. It was her gentleness rather than her looks that drew you to her. Something about her calmed him and made him feel like he was home and would never feel that way about anyone else again.
Nnamdi couldn’t wait for the party to be over so they could fly to Ghana for their honeymoon. It was a wedding gift from their friends who put the money together so the new couple could go away for a few days, have fun and recover from the stress of planning a typical loud Abuja wedding. He knew the next ten days would be bliss and couldn’t wait for the rest of their lives to begin.
* * *
“Four days, isn’t that too early to tell?”
“I’ve never been pregnant before, so I wouldn’t know.”
“Nnamdi,” Ariana whispered his name as she traced his arched brows playfully in their honeymoon suit. It was almost lunchtime and they were still in bed. “You joke about everything. It’s probably just stress from weeks of intense planning and nonstop shopping for the wedding or something I ate last night.”
“Ari girl, all these nausea and vomiting can only mean one thing. You’re pregnant.”
“Baby, please, I couldn’t have taken in so soon. I’m usually not that lucky in life.”
“Not until you met me, I’m quick like that.” He flexed his chest muscles in a mock show of strength. “Besides, we spent the weekend before the wedding together with my aunt in Port Harcourt, remember? It may have happened then.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if I was pregnant? It would make our parents very happy and it’d be a sign that God really wanted for us to be together.”
“Pregnancy or no pregnancy, we were meant to be together. You make me very happy, Ariana,” Nnamdi said, kissing her forehead. “I know there are all these pregnancy kits and things to help us know right away if we’re going to be parents, but I’d suggest we see a doctor, you know, like carry out a proper old-fashioned pregnancy test.”
“We can do that once we get back.”
“No, I don’t think we should wait that long. There’s probably something a doctor would recommend for the morning sickness. Why don’t we ask the concierge for directions to a good hospital here in Accra? We can go in the morning.”
* * *
Ovarian cancer? How did their lives go from bliss to bleak in just one day? Nnamdi didn’t know which was worse, the cancer or the fact that his beautiful, kind-hearted sweetheart would never make him a father.
The rest of the honeymoon became a nightmare. They both couldn’t wait to get back to Nigeria, thinking that it would be easier to face the reality of their predicament at home. Nnamdi still remembered the look in her parents’ eyes as they broke the news to them. Ariana was going to get terribly sick within a very short time because the cancerous cells had spread and she might not have very much longer to live. Both the Ghanaian doctor and the one they saw in Nigeria predicted a rapid decline. They foresaw tough times ahead for her and her young husband and those that would be involved in providing care for her.
There were days Nnamdi wished he had a better paying job or that her family was rich, then maybe he would have been able to fly her abroad to all those places they say people go for cancer treatment and return cancer free. But his pay grade as a civil servant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t afford him that privilege.
As soon as they got back from their honeymoon, poor Ariana was forced to quit her job in the Insurance Company where she earned well as Head of Marketing. And whatever help they got from family and friends by way of financial assistance quickly disappeared into medical bills and trial drugs that left her feeling even worse than she did before she took them.
Nnamdi knew that with the way things were going and the constant demand for his attention by his wife, it wouldn’t be long before he too was out of work. His boss had already found a replacement for him and the only thing that kept him in the Ministry was the strict civil service rules on termination. There were too many queries in his file already, but his wife needed him and he had to be by her side.
In the end she was his wife, and as her husband, it was the saddest thing watching her fade away before his eyes. Nnamdi didn’t leave her or lose faith in the unseen hand of the Healer, and when it seemed like the orthodox wouldn’t do he let his uncles and aunts talk him into the unorthodox. He couldn’t remember how many healing homes and spiritual houses he took poor Ariana to, but she didn’t get better. Nothing could stop the decline he noticed every morning he helped her wash.
Sometimes he cried. Nnamdi would lock himself up in the guest bathroom and cry so his wife wouldn’t hear him. It hurt him that there was nothing he could do to help her feel better. It hurt him even more that he didn’t know how she felt whenever she was in pain and would latch on to him as if letting go would mean the end. Nnamdi swore to her that he would love her till the end and stand by her even in sickness.
* * *
And then happiness walked in. It came in the form of Dumebi.
Dumebi wasn’t a stranger; she was the first woman he told he loved and thought he meant it. They had been engaged for three years but she called off the engagement when the company she worked for posted her to France to work as an expatriate. Now she was back as the Country Head, unmarried and still attracted to him.
Running into her in church when he attended his brother’s child dedication was a pure accident, but the dinner dates and cooked meals in her house were far from accidental. He needed those times with her to stay sane. He found himself drawn to her again like they never broke up. Dumebi totally got him. Nnamdi felt she understood his devastation finding out his wife was terminally ill barely one week after they got married and coming to terms with the fact that Ariana was dying.
The night they made love, he knew it was going to happen. He wanted it to happen. For almost 24 months he hadn’t made love to his wife or any woman for that matter. He felt young and wanted again. He felt virile and alive again. He promised himself there wouldn’t be a repeat performance, but he knew it was a lie. They couldn’t stay away from each other.
Dumebi told him about the pregnancy three months later. He was beside himself with joy. He was going to be a father. He was with a woman he loved and she was carrying his baby. She was going to help him get a better job with one of the oil majors. She said she could easily get transferred back to Paris and he could get a cross posting once he landed the oil company job. They would move in together and begin their future in the world’s capital city of romance.
* * *
He left her. Nnamdi left Ariana to be with Dumebi. Ariana was devastated and so were her parents. They thought it was the cruellest thing to do to a woman who had a short time to live. The day he left, Ariana contemplated suicide but overcame the emotion. She was going to die anyway, but she wanted it to be honourable.
* * *
One evening two months after he moved in with Dumebi, Nnamdi walked into the house from visiting his parents and saw her having dinner with a guest. He was a much older man, distinguished looking in the way only white aristocrats were. There was a smattering of grey in his moustache, but Nnamdi couldn’t tell how old he was because his head was completely bald and his grip when they shook hands was firm. Dumebi introduced him as a senior colleague from work but the way they bantered, Nnamdi could sense that they were much closer and extremely comfortable in each other’s company. François told him he had come all the way from Paris to check up on Dumebi. Nnamdi played with his food. Something about the way they interacted with each other didn’t sit well with him.
When they retired for the night after the guest had left, Dumebi told him she had something very important to say to him. His stomach churned loudly, but the rumbling wasn’t loud enough to block the bad news he knew was coming. She informed him that she hadn’t been very truthful to him and wanted to come clean.
She said François was her senior colleague at work, but that he was also her husband. They had gotten married secretly a few months after she arrived Paris because the company policy forbade intra office relationships and marriages. Because of the secrecy surrounding their situation, they couldn’t have children, something she wanted desperately. That and the cultural differences put a huge strain on their marriage and when Dumebi couldn’t take it anymore they agreed it was best they separated for a while and see what happened afterwards.
The opening in Nigeria came up and she lobbied to be moved back home. When she ran into Nnamdi again, she was lonely and the distraction he came with helped her heal. But she really wasn’t looking for anything serious until the pregnancy. Meanwhile the estrangement brought her husband to his senses and now he wanted her back. She told him about the baby and he said it really didn’t matter who the biological father was. As long as she was the mother he’d love the child like his own. Besides, they both get what they’d always wanted – she, her baby, and François gets to keep his position in the company. Dumebi told Nnamdi that she cared about him deeply, but she had decided to give her marriage another chance.
Nnamdi reached for the thing closest to him. It was a glass flower vase. He hauled it at Dumebi with every intention of hurting her but she docked and it crashed on the floor. He hurriedly got into a pair of jeans and still wearing his pyjamas top, he left the house afraid that he might do something really stupid to Dumebi he’d regret for the rest of his life.
He drove back to his house. He hadn’t been there for weeks. The doors were locked and it didn’t look like anyone was home. After banging on the door for a while, a neighbour from next door informed him that his wife had gone to stay with her parents. He raced back to his car and drove to meet Ariana in his in-laws house across the other end of the city. Her parents wouldn’t let him see her. His mother-in-law rained insults and curses on him, but he just stood there, knowing that he deserved it.
Ariana came into the living room in a wheel chair and pleaded with her mother to calm down. She led Nnamdi to her room and showed him her packed bags.
“Tomorrow, I leave for Michigan. My uncle, Uncle Fred and his wife have through their friends in government raised the money I need to see a consultant in America. I don’t know what will happen when I get there, but the doctors I spoke with sounded very optimistic after reviewing my file.”
“Ari girl, I’m terribly sorry,” Nnamdi pleaded. “Please forgive me.”
“Nnamdi, I don’t have much strength left. The doctors say I should save what little energy I have left for one thing – getting better. Maybe if the miracle I’m hoping and praying for happens and I come back alive, then we can discuss forgiveness. For now, I’d ask nicely that you leave. My parents are really mad at you, but my brothers, I can’t guarantee what they’d do if they wake up and find you here.”
Nnamdi went down on his knees. He knew he had been such a fool and it made him feel small, very small.
Ariana returned to Nigeria after eighteen months in the US cancer-free. She became the face and voice of a leading cancer awareness NGO in Nigeria. She is always on TV and Newspapers doing advocacy work for cancer patients and their caregivers.
Nnamdi got the job Dumebi promised him with Chevron Nigeria. He is in a serious relationship and hopes to marry again someday but he doesn’t watch TV or read newspapers anymore for fear of seeing or reading something about Ariana.
She said he was forgiven, but Nnamdi hasn’t forgiven himself yet.
Again, the End.
Photo Credit: George Obadiah