Perhaps it would be dishonest to begin by stating that I never planned that it should happen. This is because at the back of my mind, that mysterious depthless fathom Sigmund Freud christened the subconscious, wild waves of erotic fantasy were rolling and coasting. I guess they are normal for any healthy young man in my situation. But then, let truth be told: Yvonne Onyinyechi Nwaodioto was more than enough to give an anchorite a heart attack.
Yet, I could say I never planned things to happen the way they did. This is because while I could not deny my intense attraction towards my lecturer, I was not the only male in the History and Strategic Studies Department who had lecherous thoughts about the brainy bombshell. Quite a few undergraduates, postgraduates and fellow dons fancied her but to the best of my knowledge, none of them made a move. It was not that Yvonne was not friendly, but she was a friendly fortress. Both as a married woman, and recently, as a widow, there was something about her that clearly told you not to overstep your bounds. Rumours had it that one professor, now relocated to the United States, had come close to having a third eye when he became too ambitious. Then Yvonne had just finished her Masters and was elevated from a graduate assistant to a lecturer.
Frankly I did not have any plans in the romance or sex departments for Yvonne. My hands were full with my Masters programme, struggling to pay my bills from the peanuts I earned as a teacher at a mission secondary school, and wondering if my search for a Miss Right would ever come out right. Helen, the girl I had loved with the entire fibres in my lean, lanky body since my undergraduate days, had frankly told me she could no longer wait. “I’m not getting any younger and offers are flooding in.” She was a beauty; only God knew why she had never gone for the Miss Nigeria crown. After a day of reflection I let her go. Two weeks later she got married to an America-based businessman in a bash, which would have shamed Prince Charles and late Princess Diana. For three days I holed up in my bed-sitter and prayed for death. But I only lost three kilogrammes and my illusions about love and women. Since then I had whored occasionally but, boy, deep down, I knew that some broken hearts never mended.
Now the M.A. in Diplomatic Studies and African Strategic Relations was virtually over. The second and final semester examinations were over, and from all indications, I was on my way to a 4.35 CGPA rating. That of course depended on my postgraduate research and the departmental head had assigned me to Dr. Yvonne Nwaodioto. Her academic prowess and love for high quality work was well known throughout the university. This was not unusual for a woman who had the honour of being the first female to earn a first-class bachelor’s degree in History from the university. At London, where she got her doctorate, she was the second best student of her graduating set and only love for her husband had compelled her to decline a teaching appointment at the University of Liverpool to return to the wide embrace of her alma mater. Quite a few of my course mates were concerned but I was determined to give my thesis my best shot. I might not be in her league – I had made a 2’1 – but there was no reason why I could
not get a decent M.A. and go on to a lecturing career.
Apparently the gods were on my side. Yvonne took an interest in my work. She was impressed with the seriousness I attached to my programme and occasionally pointed me out as a model to some of my course mates. “He is destined for the top, folks. He gives me the hope that postgraduates from Agora State University can wipe off the shame to which our certificates have been assigned overseas.” I would feign modesty even as my colleagues responded with approbation, envy or indifference. Unfortunately, behind my mask raced thoughts, that would have earned me outright expulsion if she got a whiff of their prurient odour.
“Na wa oh!” Efe, my closest pal among my course mates, exclaimed after one such praise – dishing session. “De opeke like you, no be small. Wetin una dey do?” he asked in a conspiratorial whisper as we walked to his car. A father of two, the Immigration officer was a confirmed womanizer who had bedded half the female undergraduate population in the faculty.
“You are crazy.”
Efe laughed as he switched on the engine. “Dat one na grammar! Obilor is a model M.A. student! Obilor writes well-researched scholarly papers! Obilor’s presentations are flawless! A beg, are you the only smart guy in the class? What of Tim, Aliu, Ade, and Adi? She doesn’t praise the ladies, for sure.”
I did not know whether to be angry or laugh. Efe was a crazy guy. “What’re you saying, you ikebe maniac?”
Efe roared. “The babe likes you. She’s giving you a subtle green light. Why not go ahead and give her what she needs? You think say her body be iron?”
I shook my head. “So this is how your mind wanders during lectures?”
“Stop playing saint.” Efe waved his hand. “Every guy on campus admires her. But clearly she likes only one man: you. So try your luck. Who knows? It could be an end to your chronic lack of naira. Definitely, a lecturing job here.”
I frowned. “If her brains could take her to where she is today, so can mine.”
Efe shrugged off my statement. “Old boy, you’re still a baby at twenty-eight. Dr. Nwaodioto can make your dreams a bit easier to achieve if you give her what she needs. Don’t you want a PhD abroad? Even a career in a foreign university? Think of the power of her recommendations.”
I sighed. “What makes you think her interest in me is not solely academic? I was her student at B.A. level; nothing like what you are suggesting took place, though she did praise my work.”
Efe shrugged again. “Try your luck. Strike out; if Columbus had sat on his haunches the New World might never have been known.” He whistled regretfully. “If only … Obilor, dat woman fine no be small. Have you watched the roll of her hips as she walks past? Those mammary glands beat anything you can see in Playboy magazine. God, how I wish say I sabi book! Maybe she for be my supervisor.”
I nearly passed out with laughter. The way the thirty-five year old Casanova enunciated my latent fantasies was stomach killing. “I pity your wife,” I managed to gasp between tears. “Anyway, you can take a chance.”
“Not on your life. She’d probably yank off my staff of office and hand it over to the Kabaka of Buganda.”
“That would serve you right. Your overworked J.T. needs rest.”
We chortled crazily.
But Efe’s coarse prophecies were to come to pass in a backhanded way only a week later. The phrase backhanded is deliberate. It was not me who initiated the move, but please do not ask me why I did not put up the dykes before the deluge burst the dam.
That Friday morning I arrived at her office with my research proposal and outline for my dissertation. We had prearranged a two-hour meeting.
Yvonne was standing by a book-lined shelf in her modest but elegantly furnished office. She was superbly turned out in a well-cut black trouser-suit, which gave her the appearance of a trendy banker. Unless you knew you would never believe that this was a thirty-eight year old lady whose firm breasts had given suck to two strapping children, whose husband had died barely four years ago.
What transpired next had absolutely nothing to do with a study of post Cold War diplomacy in sub-Saharan Africa, with emphasis on post-democratic Nigeria and post-apartheid South Africa.
Once we were seated, facing each other, Yvonne opened up.
My backbone nearly snapped out of place.
“Don’t look so surprised. Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No, why?” I was too dumbfounded to lie.
The fire in her big, peanut-butter eyes consumed me. “I am hopelessly in love with you. I’ve tried to keep it under control, but it is not working.” A pause, then: “I want to get down with you.” The colloquial, American pop music phrase was strangely apt.
I could not believe my ears. My heart crashed in my ears.
“Ma…Doc…I can’t believe this. Me?”
“Yes. Aren’t you a man? You’re good-looking, though a bit too thin. Quite virile and very smart.” She paused. “Call me Yvon or Onyinyechi.”
My legs trembled. My fantasies became razor-sharp mental pictures but a steely cord of sanity twanged at the core of my mind. Yvonne was already on her feet. Instinctively I got up, moved away like an antelope smelling a trap.
“Please, please, don’t …”
“But why? Am I not attractive?” Yvonne’s plaintive tone jolted my heart. I was fighting two monsters simultaneously and the one trapped in me was fast taking hold of the bomb between my legs. I nearly ran towards the door.
“You can’t go,” she cooed. I stopped dead. “I activated the lock automatically when I sat down. The lock is concealed in my drawer.”
I nearly died on my feet. I tried the lock; it refused to yield to my desperate efforts. I just stared at her.
Desire surged through her entire being. “Let us stop being childish, darling. I really care about you.”
“There are other men. Please, let me go.”
“No.” Her hand had already gone to her jacket buttons. Her eyes fell on the growing bulge on the front of my jeans.
“I’ll scream.” My voice was as false as a fraudster’s promise.
“Go ahead.” The jacket was gone. She approached; a graceful, deadly panther.
Kick her away, scream, yell, run, twanged the cord of sanity. But once she was barely a feet away, her blouse gone, her arms outstretched, my dam burst. I grabbed her, barely ignoring her soft moan as our lips locked and we crashed to the rug.
It was love on roller skates. Once she got into bed Yvonne took off her blue stockings and convinced me – if I ever had doubts – that a chain of degrees and formidable intellect did not detract from her capacity to maximize her natural endowments. Indeed, her intellect, her very independence, lent a peculiar charm to her lovemaking and love giving.
If matters were left solely in her hands Yvonne would have gone public with our relationship. Behind her fortress was a rather unconventional, freethinking spirit which had been reinforced by her years abroad, and I suspect, her marriage to a man who had spent half of his life in the Netherlands and Britain.
But this was Nigeria and I had too much at stake. Like every other woman in love Yvonne was a little bit unreasonable, but she had a good heart. Thus she reluctantly recognized my fears. I was not kidding myself. Many of the horny academics on campus would not take things easy if they found out that the quarry they relentlessly stalked had found succour in the arms of a penurious postgraduate student. My course mates would always attribute my success to tumbles in the hay with my supervisor if they knew. Besides, I did not want to be given the soft touch just because I was romantically involved with my supervisor. Then, there was the general concern – I mean, she was a good ten years older, had two kids, though they were in public schools in England, and I was not yet sure of my heart. The scars of Helen had not totally healed.
But Yvonne was chiselled out of pure gold. Although on campus I could always see the fire lurking behind those peanut butter laser beams, yet she reined in her feelings. We never made love in her office again; virtually every weekend saw me at her house. Thrice she came to my bed-sitter, unfazed by my concerns. Clearly she was a woman who had found the berth her soul longed for.
We did not just bore into each other’s flesh. We had stimulating conversations, cooked, ate and sang together. Occasionally we even quarrelled and once I came close to slapping her. She gave me full attention as a supervisor but I insisted she did not over-do it. “I know my job, sweetheart,” she assured me. “You are one hell of a lover but I won’t hesitate to carpet you if it will do you good.” True to her word, her red pen tore through two chapters of my dissertation and I had to do intensive Internet-based research to come up with postulations that would satisfy her. The result was a first class work that got an undisputed A and commendations from the professors who acted as my external supervisors. “Perhaps only a couple of the dissertations I supervised at Harvard come close to this man’s work in terms of quality,” observed one of the professors to an elated Yvonne after my formal defence. That night, she cooked a royal dinner, opened two bottles of French wine, and put on a bedroom performance, which kept me busy till almost midday.
But then time was moving on and I had to take some definite steps about my future. While the university was still hesitating about employing me – bitter intra-university politics had pitched my head of department and the faculty dean against the vice chancellor and the registrar, thus holding up my appointment – I got a part-time job as a General Studies lecturer at the local polytechnic nearby. Not much, but it paid enough to get me out of the bed-sitter into a one-room flat.
And the affair with Yvonne was no longer secret.
That night we were seated on a sofa in my sitting room. Actually she was reclining in my arms while I caressed her back and shaped my thoughts.
“Onyi?” Whenever I used her Igbo sobriquet she knew I had something on my mind. She sat up.
“Let’s talk. I have a lot on my mind.”
She curled her legs under her and faced me with calm, earnest eyes. I began to speak, and every word was as sincere as the blood flowing through my veins.
“Onyi, when we started, I thought it was just a mad fling. Just sex. But for the past nine months you have made me realize that it is possible to love again. Helen made me feel that all women were walking devils but you changed all that. I fell in love again, and from the way I see it, I’ll stay in love this time.
“It is as clear as daylight that our relationship’s no longer secret. Not that it matters much, especially now I am out of the university. But there’re other worries. You, for one. Your job.”
“I can take care of myself,” she said quietly. “At worst I’ll leave Nigeria.”
“But that’s not all.” I paused. This was the hard part. “Your boys. You can’t hide me away from them forever.” I paused again. This was much more than the hard part; it was the meat.
“Onyi, I want to get married.”
Her lips trembled. “And I am too old for you?”
My heart shivered. “No, but getting my folks’ approval will be something else. The world will think that you are too old, but you give me joy, and I can’t ask for more from a woman.”
There was a pregnant pause. I wondered if I had been too upfront but it was better to be honest. I watched her closely. Her lips quivered. Gone was the cool, confident, calm and collected lover. Gone was the femininely solid intellect. She looked like a little girl standing in front of a chasm she had long thought was sealed. Tears stood in her eyes. My soul turned.
“What did I say wrong, Onyi?” I asked, taking her in my arms. She rested her face on my chest and wept. Her body shook with strong sobs. I was troubled. I kept caressing her back, fondling those lovely curly night-black waves, and wondering what stone I had upturned.
After what looked like a century Yvonne calmed down. She went into my bathroom, washed her face and came out. Her eyes were coals of agony but her voice was steady.
“Darling, you have also brought me joy. It was a gamble I took back then. I knew you found me attractive but whether mere lust would turn into love was not clear.
“I’d be glad to be your wife. But…” She paused. “You’ve a right to know some truths about me. You told me about Helen. You know I am a widow but you don’t know everything. So…”
My ears burned.
Yvonne was born nearly thirty-nine years ago to the chief priest of Uduora, the dreaded god of Oramaku community in the backwaters of the Hill state of Eastern Nigeria. For all the talk of Christianity, Western education and Europeanization, Oramaku, like most Nigerian communities, had certain cultural icons they did not joke with. Uduora was the soul of Oramaku, and his laws overrode every other. Mere mortal wills surrender to his. At the feet of Uduora, all Oramaku knees must bow.
A week after the chief priest died his successor was chosen by the god at a festival. Anyone thus selected from among the priest’s children would automatically assume the mantle, no matter what he or she did for a living. If the successor was a woman, she was automatically married to the god. Her previous marital status was irrelevant. Yvonne’s father had three wives and, though steadfast in his worship of Uduora, he was smart enough to allow his children go to school.
The beads fell on Yvonne who had just completed her national youth service.
Yvonne rejected the priesthood and since then she had known no peace. Her life had been a litany of woe. Conversion to the religion and ways of the white man had robbed her of faith in her people’s beliefs. Never had anyone in Oramaku history so blatantly questioned the oracle of Uduora but a mere woman was openly doing so now.
She fled her village, never to return. Her mother and two brothers, one a lawyer the other a computer scientist, were ostracized from the community. Once Uduora was involved, the villagers gave no quarters. The offending family members were chased out, and had the police not intervened, skulls would have been shattered. Even so, Uduora’s ministers sent to Mama Onyi and her daughter: obey the god or should anything happen to the village, the people’s blood would be on your heads. Other family members who refused to participate in the public denunciation of Yvonne and her family were severely sanctioned. Enemies of the dead priest and his family shielded behind the god’s banner to vent their spleen.
Somehow Yvonne held out, getting higher degrees, marrying, rearing children and even taking harsh legal measures once when things wanted to get out of hand.
But though the gods’ hands move slowly, they move decisively. Three years ago her two brothers and their wives were killed in bizarre motor accidents. A year before that, her husband collapsed at his office desk as soon as he came back from the toilet. Apparently crazed by grief, her mother lapsed into a catatonic state from which she never recovered. Yvonne speedily relocated her sons abroad.
Coincidences or supernatural anger? And now love was knocking on her door again.
“So now you know the truth,” she concluded quietly.
My head felt dew-light. Taking on the challenges of a conservative society was one thing; fighting supernatural forces was something else. I am an African, a Nigerian, an Igbo, and I knew the dusty but powerful cords of superstition still twanged in my people’s hearts. For most of them, pristine, antediluvian, primordial, ancient realities ruled, illogical they are to the Western eye and mind.
What of you? I asked myself. I got to my feet and began to pace the room. By design I paused at the refrigerator. I shook off an urge to take a beer. Booze was no solution.
Yvonne got to her feet and disappeared in the bedroom. When she reappeared she was fully dressed and clutching her overnight bag. My stomach contracted.
“Where are you going?”
“Home.” She sounded like she was announcing her own funeral.
“Why, for God’s sake?”
Tears brimmed like overflowing brew in her eyes. Her voice was calm, though cracked at the edges. “Darling, it can’t be. The stakes are too high. My love kills, and I don’t want you to be the next victim.”
A hot hand from hell gripped my voice box.
“So goodbye. It was great while it lasted.” Suddenly her shoulders drooped, her face furrowed with lines at least ten years older than her age. She wanted to give me one last embrace, one last kiss; her eyes said as much. But she knew she would not leave my arms once she stepped into them. With a visible wrench she turned for the door. Halfway, the hot hand let go of my voice.
“Yvonne, come back here!” I cried. In two bounding leaps I caught her. Her bag fell out of her hold as I roughly swung her round. My embrace was a backbreaking bear hug. My lips nearly tore hers apart as we swallowed each other. Kiss for kiss, tears for tears. I lifted her and went to the sofa.
“Listen to me, Onyi, I will never leave you. I’ll never let you go. We have the greatest power in heaven and on earth.”
“What?” she whispered, snuggling up against me.
“The power of love. Uduora will not win. Believe me, he will not win. But if you leave, he’ll beat us hands down.” My tone was fierce with conviction.
“Sure?” she sounded like a little girl seeking reassurance.
“Sure.” Our lips met again and the world dissolved in a bottomless sea.
Two days later we went to consult Reverend Father James Olumo, a powerful Catholic clergyman who was a specialist in spiritual warfare.
I will not go into details about the terrible war that took place during the six deliverance sessions. If anyone tells you Satan does not exist or isn’t powerful, send him to a shrink. Better still, send him to Oramaku. But if anyone also tells you God does not exist or isn’t more powerful than any other supernatural force, put him in a straightjacket. What I saw shook me down to my boots. But I knew it was do or die: better to go down fighting than surrender this woman who made me ache with love.
Love and light won. Two months later Yvonne and I got married.