Meeting at Zuby’s Café at 4pm
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 of being seated, 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 have taken on a new dimension or so I thought that day at the village fundraiser with Idara my cousin. That was when I first spotted Akunna.”
Idara pulled a chair next to his cousin’s 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’s gentle elbowing interrupted his concentration.
On occasion, Mezu had to remind himself that he was the older of the two because of Idara’s special way with words. That sounded like something his grandmother would say. He caught onto Idara’s reference to a “flower” as the young lady in the distance.
“Hmmm. that chic in the floral skirt looks familiar,” 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, with one eyebrow cocked.
“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 south-south 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 commented with sudden exhilaration. Rising from his seat, he straightened his pants and said. “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. Due to a last minute schedule conflict, Mezu had to fill in for his father, the guest of honor. With less than 15 minutes, he needed to get his father’s message to the chairman before the ceremonies began. It was enough time for them to exchange numbers.
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 to the United States from the holidays and six months later he travelled back to Nigeria in June. Prior to his trip, he had informed his parents of his intention towards Akunna and they began to make inquiries.
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”, the traditional wedding 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 Ahunna getting time off on such short notice almost close to zilch, he decided it was best to hold off until after the wedding in December. Akunna would have a full four weeks of vacation at the beginning of the year.
“Oh by the way…”
Uhh ohh!.. Idara interrupted 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 Consult.
“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 am hoping that Akunna is patient enough and with time is able to adapt to life in the U.S.”
Idara chatted with Mezu for a little longer before he had to take another call.
Akunna arrived a few weeks after he got back from their traditional wedding. It was great having someone to come back home to at the end of a long day at work. The timing was perfect. It was the beginning of a new quarter and things were not as hectic. On weekends they visited friends and family or relaxed at home.
Akunna went back to Abuja a month later. In spite of the time difference, they stuck to their routine of speaking with each other at least once in the morning and just before she went to bed. It was during one of their evening phone conversations that Akunna mentioned her concerns about leaving a lucrative career as a Lead Engineering Program Manager to relocate to the states.
“Zuzu, I am glad you got this new job. But let us face the facts. Best case scenario it takes about 24-36 months 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. The truth is I am not convinced I have it in me to start all over again.”
Mezu could not deny that Akunna had made some good points. As much as he tried he was not even convinced that he did a good job of addressing her concerns, but still hoped for the best. 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 Bisi 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 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. His head tilted backwards, he slowly lowered it 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 with her mum stretched out on the oversized coral chaise lounge, part of the eclectic decor of the study in her parent’s home. The cathedral ceilings gave the space a more open feel. Bisi could almost make out the contours of her mother’s gentle yet firm expression as her voice came through her ear buds.
Her parents met as undergraduate students while attending college in Vermont. Bisi was born while her father was enrolled in a Ph.D program. At the time her mother had a year left to wrap up her graduate program in Organizational Psychology. They were a quintessential team. It still amazed Bisi how even after some many years her parents could carry on for hours in very interesting conversations. Their strong faith in God and commitment to each other was the bedrock of their relationship.
Growing up, her parents modeled for three impressionable girls, Bisi and her two younger sisters, what a God centered marriage should be and that to a large extent had molded her views in more ways than one. Their parents taught them that it was not their love for each other but their love and commitment for each other along with their fear of God that had sustained them so far.
“Bisi, I respect that the ultimate decision is yours to make but if you don’t mind, I would like to share a few things with you”
“Sure, mom go ahead. I am all ears.”
Her mum explained that even in their experience with the counselling ministry at their local church, where herself and Bisi’s father served as lay marriage counselors to couples, they were aware that customary, also known as traditional marriage is a well-recognized “legal” form of marriage under Nigerian law.
“Some communities even take it a step further such that where the customary marriage 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 my mind. The whole point of meeting with him was because I thought he needed some sort of closure. Nonetheless, I am glad we had an opportunity to talk. But even at that, there is the big elephant in the room which I was quick to point out. Even if I were to accept his proposal, there still remains the issue of his marriage to Akunna.”
“What did he have to say about that?”
“As if he had anticipated my question, he clarified that it was only a customary marriage which would not bar us from getting married in the church”
Bisi rose from the couch, and continued talking as she made her way to her bedroom.
“I agree that he has been married or is married, albeit not in church or by a justice of the peace, but nonetheless the fact is that it was done by native law and custom. I believe that you do not need to be blessed by a priest or pastor for it to be a recognized form of marriage. To think otherwise would essentially be saying, and if you would, permit me to take a line from you that we are the progeny of concubines. But I know that not to be true because, as far back as before the missionaries introduced Christianity, our ancestors still recognized the institution of marriage. The “negotiations” were between the families and their representatives. Moreover, I am yet to find in the Bible where it says Christians have to be married in the “church” for it be recognized as a covenant made between the couple and God.”
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.