As the hour drew closer, the knots in her stomach seemed to expand by the minute. It did not help that she was running a bit late. As she stepped over the wood threshold, she quickly skimmed the sitting area of the cafe. Just then Mezu sidled up to her.
“Oh my you are just getting here as well”. Bisi was grateful for his relaxed attitude which eased her anxiety.
“Pardon me for being late. I sent you a text. There was an accident on the highway”.
Within a couple of minutes they were seated and their server had taken their drink orders. “Since there is really no pretty way to go about this, I am going to jump in right away.”
“I must admit I was already in somewhat of a funk but it got worse after our breakup. I felt rejected and inadequate. I needed to clear my head so once I was done with a series of interviews, I travelled home to visit my parents for the holidays. My fortune seemed to taken a new dimension or so I thought that day at the Christmas festival when I first spotted Akunna.” Idara pulled a chair next to his cousin who appeared preoccupied. He followed Mezu’s line of sight which rested on the young lady. There was a young girl by her side.
“Cuz some flower seems to have caught your attention” Idara had his way with words. Sometimes it was hard to believe Mezu was older given Idara’s special way with words. That sounded like something his grandmother would say.
Mezu construed Idara’s reference to a “flower” as the young lady in the distance. Idara’s gentle elbowing interrupted Mezu’s gaze.
“Hmmm. she does look familiar, that chic in the floral skirt” Idara muttered, perching his Tom Ford aviators on his forehead .
“Yes that is the one”. Idara heard Mezu whisper under his breath. Leaning forward, eyes squinted, “Oh my, is that not Akuns!!!” Idara exclaimed, drawing stares from the people nearby.
“You know her?” Mezu turned to his cousin, confused. “I sure do. The last time I ran into her was at the LNG office in Abuja. She had just been transferred from their Bonny office in southeast Nigeria to their head office in the capital city” Idara and Akunna Ejike were course mates in graduate school.”
“Perfect, that makes it even all the more easier” Mezu with sudden exhilaration, rising from his seat, straightened his pants. “Middleman Idara, off we go to meet her”
Idara made the introductions but had to leave when he spotted a friend in the distance. Mezu and Akunna had only chatted for a few minutes when he was informed of the chairman’s arrival. With less than 15 minutes, he needed to get his father’s message to the chairman before the ceremonies began. They exchanged numbers.
Due to a last minute schedule conflict, Mezu had to represent his father, the guest of honor. Although, Mezu did not get another chance to speak with Akunna, the next day he called her and they hung out a couple of times before she returned to Abuja. Mezu kept in touch after he got back from the holidays and six months later he travelled back to Nigeria. He had informed his parents of his intention towards Akunna. Although the parents knew each other, the families were formally introduced at the “ikwu aka” the first stage of the Igbo wedding ceremony which culminated in the “Igba Nkwu” ceremony which was set for Christmas.
“Hi cuz. I hear wedding bells in the near future. Congrats”
“Idara, I apologize for not giving you a call sooner” Mezu had not spoken to his cousin since the Christmas holidays.
“Wow things must be going very well between the two of you, with a wedding already scheduled for the end of the year”
“Overall it has worked out much better than I had anticipated, even though on some days I can’t help but wonder if things are moving a bit too fast”
“How do you mean?”
“My ideal situation would be for Akunna to come over for a visit” Mezu reasoned it would give her a glimpse of his daily routine”
There was silence.
“Mezu, you know you are “onye nkem”, you are my own person”. Mezu could not hold back but smile since that was a term of endearment used by their mutual grandmother to express how special one was and sometimes to butter them up to do her bidding.
Idara continued. “I only wish you the best and so I will be frank with you. Do you think it may help allay your fears if she visited before the traditional wedding and then you take it from there?”
Mezu had considered it but with both families involved and the chances of her getting time off on such short notice was almost close to zilch, so they decided it was best to hold off until after the wedding in December. She could take full advantage of her four week vacation at the beginning of the year.
“Oh by the way…
Uhh ohh.. Idara interuppted him mid sentence.
“No it is not what you think, Akunna is not pregnant. I got the job as a Director of Operations at Knowledge Management consultancy.
“Congrats!!” Idara whooped.
“Yes it is exciting but it comes with big demands on my time and even one already familiar with how hectic things can get in this society, it will take some getting used to. I hope Akunna is patient and eventually adjusts to the new way of life.” Idara chatted with Mezu for a little longer before he had to take another call.
The wedding held and Akunna arrived a few weeks after he got back. It was great feeling and he looked forward to having someone to come back home to at the end of a long day at work. Her timing was perfect because things had slowed down at work. It worked out because this was in between the end of quarters. On weekends they visited friends and family or relaxed at home.
Akunna returned to Abuja and during one of their phone conversations mentioned her concerns about leaving a lucrative career as a Lead Engineering Project Manager.
“Zuzu I may not have it in me to start all over again. I am glad you got this new job. But let us face the facts. Best case scenario it takes about 24-36months for you to file for your spouse. However, before any of this can happen your green card has to be approved first before we can begin to think of applying for a work permit on my behalf?”
Akunna had made some good points but he hoped with time she would come around Mezu tried to addresses her concerns. A month later she called it off because she could not see herself waiting in limbo. Disappointed but somewhat relieved he did not force the issue.
As Mezu brought her up to speed on what had happened since their breakup, it was not lost on her the sense of urgency in his delivery.
“Wow! a lot has happened with you in the last 21 months.”
Taking a sip of her drink, she continued. “It would be dishonest of me to fail to acknowledge my part in all of this. I take full responsibility for not being upfront with you. To think I could unilaterally decide to switch to friends “without benefits” status without having a full and open conversation with you was selfish and wrong on my part. It is a prayer point to God to give me the wisdom and strength of character to speak and do in love what is right in His eyes in all my ways”
Bisi was scared that their relationship which was already on shaky ground would not survive any more blows. At the time, it made good sense to hold off on telling him the truth: that she had made her decision to abstain from sexual intimacy until marriage. She admitted she was not quite there and still had a lot of work to do in terms of improving her communication skills.
“For a while there I questioned everything and when you did that sudden 180 degree turn, I felt rejected on a personal and intimate level. Bisi, thank you for sharing that with me”.
Mezu’s eyes softened. Bisi could sense this was a catharsis not only for him but also for her. He slowly brought down his head which was tilted backwards until his eyes met hers. The intensity felt awkward and so she focused on her fingers gently tracing the rim of her glass.
“I would like us to start over”
Bisi’s furrowed brows were a quick giveaway.
“Trust me, it has been almost eight months and I have had a lot of time to think things over.” Mezu realizing it was going to take a little more convincing, attempted one last plea.
“Please give it some thought. I do not expect an answer right away.” Mezu was relieved as the tension in her furrowed brows gradually eased up.
“I need time to get back to you”
‘Take all you need. I will be waiting.”
Later on that evening Bisi’s mum called to see how her meeting with Mezu went.
“My dear ignorance is not innocence. The other day I read an article about some city that has a law against men wearing short-sleeved shirts in public places. The fact that it may not be enforced does not mean it does not exist.”
For a brief moment, it felt like she was having one of their many face to face chats. Bisi could almost make out the contours of her mother’s gentle yet firm expression as her voice came over her ear piece. “So let me get this straight, what is he essentially saying or not quiet saying about his marriage?”
Her mum explained that even from a legalistic aspect, in their experience, herself and Bisi’s father as lay marriage counselors to Nigerian couples, they were aware that customary, also known as traditional marriage is a well recognized form of marriage under Nigeria law.
“Some communities even take it a step further such that where the customary rights are not fulfilled, such a woman is regarded as a lover or concubine. “Bisi love, I do not mean to bore you with all these details but my question to you is what has changed?”
“Mum, If you ask Mezu, he says based on all that has happened, he has a greater appreciation for me as a person and what we had going. On the other hand, I am in a different place in terms of my spiritual walk. My personal relationship with God is my oxygen; my number one priority and I need to be honest with myself and him”
“So what are you driving at?”
“Asking us to get back together was the farthest thing from mind. The whole point of meeting with him was because I thought he needed some sort of closure. I am glad we had an opportunity to talk. However, even if I were to say yes, he has been married or is married, albeit not in church or by a justice of the peace, but by tradition. I believe that you do not need to be blessed by a priest or pastor for it to be a recognized form of marriage. Back before the missionaries introduced Christianity our ancestors still got married. Even in the Bible, I am yet to find anywhere where it says Christians have to be married in the “church” for it be recognized as a covenant made between the couple and God.” Bisi pointed out as she made her way to her bedroom.
In one swift motion she pulled her Bible from under her pillow and flipped to the last book of the Old testament as she read it out and her mum listened:
“Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion, and your wife by covenant.. For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord.”
Right then she had her epiphany. Bisi had her answer.
“Mom, I need to make a call.”
This is the conclusion to the story Have Something to Say.