The romantics tirelessly buzz that love is wicked. But me, I always tell them that love is not wicked; it’s benign and beautiful. Like a rose in the sun.
But now, I’ve withdrawn that cretinous assertion. Love is wicked and love is a terrorist. Love bombed Mary, my love. Love bombed me. Love bombed us. She died. I died. Or, at least, I am dying.
It is ludicrous and incredible, our story. But it did happen in Anambra State, believe me. These tears in my eyes are not fake; they are genuine tears of frustration.
I’m in my low-ceilinged bedroom at Oba, my hometown, in Anambra State, a place where I habitually lounge to savour my sweet palm wine. Now I am not here to drink palm wine. I am here to cry again. And again.
I’m not weeping because my BMW car somersaulted at Obosi and squashed a fifteen-year old schoolgirl like a tomato on the Onitsha-Owerri Road; I was not shedding tears because I might be arrested by the police. Tears were trickling down my cheeks because Mary, my love, had gone out of my life and would never return. She is dead and gone. How sad it is! My first and only love was dead, but birds were still singing in the udala tree; the tree was still swaying drunkenly and excitedly in the violent harmattan wind, and its waving branches raised dead leaves from under the tree and into the air, and then the dead leaves descended happily to the ground again, then flew up beyond the tree, flew beyond the electric pole, flew beyond the building, then began dancing back down to sleep on the ground, and then threatened to take flight again. But –unlike all these dead leaves–I was cheerless.
I wobbled to my feet, lumbered to the window and watched a cock mating a hen with childish and primitive envy. I had never envied mating fowls, but now here am I, staring at the fowls with envy, wondering why fowls do not have dicks. I wished I were the fowl for a day. I wished Mary could appear in my room right now. I needed to hold her so close to me and play and make love to her like the cock. But she was dead and gone. The first time I touched her pointy titty, she yanked off my hand.” Don’t touch me again, Alonna!” she shouted. “Stop it! I don’t like it! It’s a sin to touch a woman’s breasts. Henceforth I won’t let you touch any of my breasts again. Touching my left or right boob is highly prohibited. I ban you!”
“I won’t feel breasts again? Christ!” I said. “Please, Mary.”
There was silence except for the whir of the ceiling fan as it sliced through the air above us, ruffling the files on the table in the room I furnished for her at Housing Estate, Onitsha, drying the mingled sweat on our undraped bodies.
I switched off the fan and looked at her with a plea.
“You are a preposterous, lunatic arse, Alonna, and I don’t know why I love you,” she said, finally. “Who could believe that a thirty-five year old man is ‘crying’ because of a breast?”
I sat up in her creaking bed. “Let’s make love, Mary. Please. Later in the evening we’ll go to the church and confess; then come back, make love again, and confess next week. Many wise lovers do this, my dear. Let’s emulate them.”
“Devil! I won’t let you touch me again!” She scrambled out of the bed and searched for her underwear and brassiere. I leaned against the peeling wall and furiously watched as she wore her clothes. I wanted to bang her on the head with a 50cl bottle of Coke until she agreed to submit her breasts. But my unquenchable love for her restrained me. Other men, I was sure, would have landed her with the bottle. But I am different. I wished I had the temerity to beat respect into her head. Perhaps my truncated primary school education made me seem crass and inferior before Mary. She had a degree in English while I only have a forged Primary School Leaving Certificate. She often told her friends that I had a Master’s degree in botany, albeit I was just a wealthy, illiterate trader at the famous Onitsha Main Market. My allies usually remarked that they could not comprehend why a UNN graduate like Mary could stoop so low to fall in love with an illiterate, whose belly was bigger than a pregnant woman’s, who could not spell “biscuit” and “beer”. I know I cannot spell “biscuit”, but I can spell “beer” because I see the spelling on the Gulder bottles every day. (I loved beer with all my heart. I often told my fellow drinkers at the bar that beer is the proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy). They mocked my beer belly and I mocked their destitution. I am rich. Very rich. No wonder they playfully juxtaposed me and millionaire Arthur Eze of Ukpo.
“No marriage, no sex,” she declared. Mary was an obscure character, a puzzle. I wanted to ask her why we shouldn’t commit that sweet sin called sex, but I nixed the thought.
I tried to convince her to hold me, kiss me, ravage me, but she insisted on marriage. So I resolved to marry her. I hopped into my red BMW and drove to Afor Oba Market and bought a golden engagement ring. I did not throw naira notes at the old and young traders who were singing and following me, as though I was Eze Okpoko 1, our ‘igwe’. I only smiled at them, hopped back into my car and headed toward Onitsha to propose to Mary. The red sports car, which was trailing me, was redder than my car, but mine was indisputably more expensive.
MORE EXPENSIVE. The phrase had just brought back the rueful memory of Mr. John, my arch rival: he wanted so desperately to marry my Mary. The last day Mr. John visited my mansion in Onitsha, I did not offer him a red wine. I did not even ask him to take a seat. I detested Mr. John venomously not only because he was like Manchester City and I was Manchester United, but also because his pointed ears were large; they looked like bat wings. And he had moneyed manners. “Alonna, I am more expensive than you,” he said with apparent abhorrence, when I asked him to leave my house. “Go to St. John’s Catholic Church, Nsugbe and see the expensive pews I donated. What have you done for the St. Peter’s Anglican Church at Oba, your bloody hometown? You cannot compete with me, Alonna. You are an inconsequential sod; you are an illiterate. Can you spell your name? Can you spell “pussycat”? Stop wasting your time. Mary can’t marry an illiterate. She’s mine—”
Mr. John was still prattling when I marched into my bedroom and grabbed the rusty gun my wrinkled father had used to fight Nigerian soldiers during the Civil War. When I returned, I found my exit door wide open. Mr. John had vanished. The foe had fled. I dusted the gun, feeling like Odumegwu Ojukwu, Adolf Hitler.
THE RED CAR was still following me. Why was it racing after me like the police since I swerved into the bend at Oba junction? Was the driver Mr. John? A hired assassin? The word made me shudder. I changed gear and overtook the crawling carton-filled lorry in front. The red car overtook the lorry. I darted to the other lane; the red car did likewise. Envious men had paid this psycho to take away my life…God! Or could it be Mr. John? Does he want to prevent me from proposing to Mary by putting a bullet through my chest?
I turned the steering and realised that my hands were shaking violently. A schoolgirl was crossing the road and my car, as I’ve said earlier, squashed her like a tomato. Obosi rogues attacked my car like angry bees. The vehicle was ablaze when I dashed off. I was a fantastic runner, although my stomach was filled to the brim with beer, meat, and rice and beans. Panting like a dog, I dropped down on the grass-carpeted ground of the uncompleted building in Obosi, my hiding place. My hands were still shaking. I’ve killed a schoolgirl and I’ve lost my car. But the engagement ring was still in my pocket. I was determined to propose to Mary before Mr. John. I scrambled to my feet and tramped down the stairs. The morning sun had turned bright yellow in the sky. Lord, which road should I follow? Are those hoodlums after me? Is the red car still following me? I shoved the questions out of my mind and waved down a cyclist.
I HAVE NOT waved down a cyclist since my rise to opulence five or six years ago. Who could believe that an affluent man like me was on this vociferous okada? Even my priest, Rev. Andrew, and his wife, I was certain, would not believe it, if they saw me. Rev. Andrew was the first Yoruba priest in my church in Onitsha. When I told him on the phone– was it today or yesterday?–that the elegant Anglican had consented to marry me, his first query was: “Must you marry a Catholic?”
“I love her, Reverend,” I replied in Igbo.
“You can love an Anglican, Mr. Alonna? In Anglican Communion, it is our obligation to marry our fellow Anglicans. The Catholics don’t…”
“We are all Christians, Reverend,” I said, trying to quell my mounting anger. “We are all Christians. So why shouldn’t I marry a Catholic girl? Why can’t we—”
I was still speaking when Reverend Andrew put down the phone.
THE RED CAR was still following me. Now I was so sure it was the police. I jumped off the motorcycle and tried to run into the neighbourhood, but unfortunately, my shaky legs could not carry me. I dropped down to my knees, raised my quaking hands and surrendered. The cyclist was staring at me in utter astonishment. Even the passers-by were staring at me with curiosity. The world seemed to pause, waiting. Then the red car pulled over, and to my pleasant amazement, Mary’s father emerged from it. His black tie fluttered in the breeze as he approached me. I took a deep breath and got up.
“Alonna, please forgive us,” Mary’s father said. “We are sorry. Mary is…dead.”
I doubted my ears.” What! It is not true, Papa Mary! Tell me it is not true, even if it is true. The truth will throttle me. Please lie to me!”
He led me to his car, people’s curious eyes following us. But they didn’t stop us, their prying eyes. He told me everything: Mary had told them, her parents, that she was keen to marry me, albeit I was an Anglican, told her Catholic friends that she was keen to marry me, told her Father Jude that she’d walk down the aisle with an Anglican and not with Mr. John, the Catholic man. But they all frowned and scoffed at the idea. Father Jude paced up and down the green field of Holy Trinity, Onitsha, shaking his anvil-sized head. He said Mary’s father would be excommunicated from the church elders’ forum if he let his daughter marry an Anglican. So Mary’s father compelled her to accept Mr. John’s marriage proposal. For days, she sobbed in her room. Then one Sunday, windy and sunny, she ran out of her room like a maniac to the Onitsha Niger Bridge and flung herself down into the deep River Niger.
“I’ve to concede that Mr. John and I are my daughter’s enemies as well as yours, Alonna, but the church was the thorn in your flower,” he added.
I was, to borrow Mary’s words, unable to utter a single syllable; I was so paralyzed.
“Mary was my daughter, of course,” he continued since I remained tongue-tied. “May God forgive her and accept her soul.”
Like someone shot in the back, I dropped down on a refuse dump nearby. Darkness enveloped me.