Oghenero was a struggling man. The firm he was managing was struggling with bills and unpaid salaries. They had lost all the government contracts when the owner had quarreled with the commissioner of works. He had not gotten paid in three months and he and the owner was scheduled to have a meeting on Monday. This was the reason why he had put only his wife's name to travel with the Nigerian team to the US for the competition. His friend Oritsebawo, Amaju's cousin, had kindly included her name, since he himself could not make it due to the tension in the office.
His wife Edesiri was such a good girl. She was so slim and beautiful and he thanked God everyday for giving him a wife such as her. When he put her name in the list of Fan Club going, he jus wanted her to get a break from his all the stress of taking care of his children. The first son Ejiroghene was a sickler. How and why they went on to have two other kids he cannot fathom. The stress Ejiro gave was almost unsurmountable at times. His crisis came at the oddest of times. Oghenero was however grateful the other two, Isio and Urukpe were healthy girls.
That Monday meeting confirmed all his fears. The owner decided to fire everybody. He had asked everyone to leave the building, keeping only the security men and mobile policemen for his own protection. Oghenero expected this to happen. The owner was an eccentric, hot tempered man. And as he drove home, he wondered how long his meagre savings would last before he got another job. Having a sickler was the biggest hole a man's pocket could have.
That very evening, Ejiroghene had his crisis. Oghenero spent the night with him at the hospital. He decided not to tell his wife about it. She loved football and was obviously going to have a good time with the fans.
Oritsebawo came to the hospital to see him the next morning.
Oritsebawo: how is the boy doing
Oghenero: What can I say? He is stable, thank God. He is being transfused right now.
Oritsebawo: How your wife? I will be joining the team tomorrow. Should I tell her about this? Should she come back?
Oghenero: No. Let her stay and enjoy herself.
Oritsebawo: you just lost your job right?
Oghenero: wetin person go do? Yes oh.
Oritsebawo: You should have gotten that visa for yourself. You would just have stayed back and find work in the US. Now your wife has wasted that slot.
Oghenero: Thats true. But I didnt expect to be fired and I could not just go. Em...well Edesiri can stay back and find a job too there, can't she?
Oritsebawo: It is not easy for a woman oh. My cousin that I put her name last two years, it has been really hard for her. It took her a whole year to find her feet.
Oghenero: But she has right?
Oritsebawo: Na America na. Someway somehow, you will find a way to survive there.
Oghenero: Ehen. Good. Edesiri will stay back then.
Oritsebawo: Ok oh. But no call my name for the matter oh. Na your name I say I go put for the list oh. US no easy like that oh. Anything you see, you go take am like that oh
Oghenero: What is there to see? What is she coming back to do? I will try my best with the kids until she finds her footing. This place is nowhere to come back to.
That was how Edesiri, his pretty wife stayed back in America. Edesiri was full of complaining in the phone calls and Oghenero kept encouraging her to face whatever came her way. That joy will come "in the morning". Edesiri had told him how she could not find a place to stay, how childhood friends refuse to pick calls, how she is kicked out of one friend's house or another, even a cousin's house, how she is now a nanny for a nurse and paid a paltry sum as she was illegal and had no work permit.
Still Oghenero encouraged her to stay. He always had good news to report to her about the family and how Ejiro was being healed by God.
Edesiri knew he was lying. She knew Ejiro was giving him hell. She knew he had lost his job and so, every now and then she sends him money. It was not easy. The Ghanaian nurse she was taking care of her child as a live-in aid, woke up one day and asked her to leave, when she saw her husband being nice to her. Edesiri had nowhere to go and was weeping profusely at the train station, knowing she had no destination really. She had accepted to be a live-in aid so that she could have a place to lay her head. It was while she was crying at the train station that she was approached by this white man. Edesiri of course would not talk to him at first but he would not let up
Jean- Pierre: Hello lady. I am sorry to bother you, but I could not just go past. Are you alright? Should I call the police?
Edesiri: No no no. Please please, No. abeggg. I am alright.
Jean Pierre. Do not be afraid. If it is your husband beating you, the police will protect you.
Edesiri: Nobody beat me. I am alright.
Jean Pierre. It is late and I see I just missed the last train. I can get you a cab as I am about to call one. I can call one for you.
Edesiri: (Afraid) please do not call the police. Please.
Jean Pierre: You are illegal aren't you? I was raised by a black nanny who was illegal. I can even tell your accent. You are Nigerian. I have spent time in West Africa. I have been to Lagos, Abuja, Accra, Kumasi, Yaounde....I have been around. They are lovely people. What's your name?
Edesiri: (Still scared.) Miriam. My name is Miriam.
Jean Pierre: My name is Jean Pierre Blanche. I was actually named after an African leader. ..oh well. Listen. I live on the other side of town. I have a basement in my house and in fact, I am hardly in town and I lock the place up when I leave. You can come with me and spend the night at my place, or you can stay here and be at the mercy of the elements. (Cab arrives and he continues) Here, this is my card. Call anyone and say you were last seen with me. We can also move to the camera right over there and it will picture both of us together. (turns to the driver) Here, take my card. If she does not call you tomorrow, give this to the police.
Edisiri thinks about it. The cold bites through her windcheater. She looks at the homeless people huddled on the side. She knew they were drug addicts and could rob her anytime. She hesitantly enters the cab.
At Jean-Pierre's house, he shows her to the basement downstairs. He goes into the fridge, microwaves the pizza and hands it to her with warm chocolate drink. He goes to his room and she is left alone in the beautifully furnished but stale-smelling basement.
Oghenero began receiving bigger cheques. The calls had reduced. However monthly, there was always Western Union waiting for him to collect. He had been unable to find solid work. Most of the work he got, the pay was appalling. Sad as it was, he relied majorly on Edesiri's monthly Western union.....and fewer and fewer calls.
Edesiri had not planned for this to happen, but she found herself reacting differently to Jean-Pierres kindness. He was a very handsome and lively man. She was his housekeeper....well that was putting it a little subtly. She was his friend. He left the house for a two to three months, but ensured she had all she needed. He paid her to be his housekeeper and paid her well...money she never really used except send home. He handed her a card and told her to use as she pleased. She could not find work as she was still illegal and what work could give her this comfort? Pierre bought her very beautiful things whenever he returned from his trips and she found she was beginning to miss him when he left. As a Frenchman, his tastes in wine was exquisite and the meals he made her were very delicious. Everyday with him was heaven. He made her laugh, he made her feel wanted. She couldn't imagine a world without him and tried as she could to avoid it, she was falling in love with him. Jean Pierre had told her one day
Jean Pierre: Marry me
Edesiri: No. em...(surprised)
Jean Pierre. If you married me, you would be legal and then you can choose either to keep working for me or to go get a job and be your own woman. People pay for this don't they?
Edesiri: How much will I pay you?
Jean Pierre: (laughs) Come on. Lets go get married. As easily as that, Jean-Pierre had made her Mrs. Blanchard at the courts. He took her out to dinner in mock celebration. He had filed for her and the day her greencard came, Jean-Pierre had told her
Jean Pierre: Mrs. Blanchard, divorce me now and you get half of everything. You now have a right to throw me out of my house. I hope you do not, but just telling your rights as my wife"
They had become quite close. She felt safe in his arms and usually takes it when they go out to watch a movie or when he takes her ice-skating. Edesiri had never been so happy in her life. The day he kissed her, she kissed him back so passionately, she did not know she had it in her to kiss that way and Pierre thought her a lot of things and numbers especially the French soixante-neuf.
Ejiroghene's condition was getting worse. The doctors had told Oghenero to brace himself. It has been three years since Edesiri left, and she had supported them very much. Oghenero was a little bothered with how the phonecalls go. They lasted no more than five minutes in which she speaks to all the kids and then to him it was never beyond "how are you. how are the kids. Found a job yet. Thank you for all what you are doing for the children". However, when Ejiroghene was apparently going to die, Edesiri asked that the three children come and live with her. Oghenero wondered about himself. Why is he not coming as well? She had mumbled something about it being cheaper to say she was single and so government would support her. That was how Oghenero had bid his children goodbye, as they entered the plane to America.
Edesiri, despite all the love Jean-Pierre was giving her, she knew she had children to take care of. She missed them. She also knew she would lose her only son to the cold hands of death if she does not bring him over to America. She had broached the topic with Jean-Pierre, expecting him to say NO. She was surprised when he did all of the immigration legwork. She had told the kids to say she and their father were no more together. It was their first lecture when they arrived America.
Oghenero had never known such emptiness. Edesiri was his "area smallie" that he had deflowered and married. She was also his first love. He had known no other woman but her and he was glad when he found she was a virgin that first day she allowed him. He had guided her through university and everyone knew they would marry and marry they had. When their first child was a sickler, it was a challenge and together they had faced it. Now he did not know what to do with himself now that his family were gone. Many people think men are happy to be "free.". If only they knew exactly what family meant to a man. It had been two years that his family had left him Edesiri had offered to keep sending the cheques, which Oghenero had turned down. How will she be taking care of the three children and still be sending him money? Has he no shame?
Things were a lot better with having to look only after himself. He had started a poultry and a fish farm and even reared snails. He had made quite a sum on his first harvest and had begged to send his family something, which they had turned down. It wasn't much and he was just learning the ropes. Still he offered to send his family some money. Every night he returned home, he felt empty, very empty.
Then he got the call. His wife wanted him to come to America. He finally could be with his family. He was excited as he sold everything he owned and got the plane ticket. As he arrived, he saw his wife with this white man. His children were holding on to him until they saw him and ran to meet him. But one look at his wife and the white dude and he knew a lot had gone amiss. But he turned to his kids and hugged each one. Then shook the hand of his wife and the white guy. The drove silently home and at the table everyone was quiet like a graveyard. Jean-Pierre tried to make fun, but all the smiles were facetious.
Edesiri led Oghenero to the basement where she first stayed when she came to the house. Then she turned and went upstairs to be with Jean-Pierre.
That night, Jean-Pierre said he was going to get milk and he would take some time. Edesiri went downstairs into the basement and rested her back on the door as she closed it.
Edesiri: Miguo. (she greets in their dialect)
Oghenero: What is this Edesiri? What is this?
Edesiri: I will send the brideprice to your people. I am married. I had no choice Oghenero. Believe me I had no choice.
Oghenero: You always have a choice. People always have choices. You chose this.
Edesiri: Okay I did. Take it the way you want it. But know I am sorry and never meant for it to be like this. You are a good man Oghenero, but .... see, I could not leave you in Nigeria. The children miss you and I know how you are with them. Tomorrow, I will take your place. It is just down the street. Some mix up came with the keys. I never planned for you to be here. I am so sorry. Tomorrow I will lead you to your place.
Oghenero: I want to go back home
Edesiri: And leave your children?
Oghenero: I will take them with me.
Edesiri: Try and tell them you will take them back to Nigeria. Have you not looked at Ejiroghene? Can't you see how well he is doing? He has the best medical care. His treatment is free, as my hus....as Jean-Pierre knew of these guys who have made a few breakthrough in blood and platelets and all that. It has something to do with stem cells. Point is Ejiro is doing really great and so are the girls. I did not want to share the joy alone. I cannot do that to you. If you choose to go back, you are their father, and you know I will always love...respect and care for you. Just ask yourself if going back to Nigeria is the best move for you. What are you going back to?
Oghenero: Edesiri why?
Edesiri: Oghenero, believe me, life is ...life is....
Oghenero: (Moves over to her) I do not care that you have been with another man. I want my family back, (tears streaming from his face.) please let us try and be together. Please.
Edesiri: (Crying) Biko Oghenero, biko. It is too late. Biko.
Oghenero holds her to him and starts kissing her. She is struggling to be free and he is trying to take off her clothes. She goes deadly still and does not struggle with him. Oghenero feels the stiffness in her body and stops. He arranges his crotch and he stands up.
Edesiri: You have a lot to learn in this country Oghenero. You have a lot to learn. Tomorrow I will take you to your place. The quicker you learn, the easier it will be for all of us.
As Edesiri steps out of the room, she meets Jean Pierre right at the door. He has a gun in his hands.
Edesiri: Honey what are you doing with that?
Jean-Pierre: The thing with Africans....Nigerians, is that you always think you are smarter than everyone else.
Edesiri: Why do you say that? Honey, put that thing....
Jean-Pierre, you think I bought the whole "he is my elder brother crap?" I knew he was your man. If you weren't married, you wouldn't have taken so long to sleep with me. And one look at his picture the kids carry, one look and you can tell he is their father. All you had to do was tell me the truth
Edesiri: Please honey...
Jean Pierre: I would rather die than be without you. There is no living for me. You are my life...EDESEEREE, that is your real name right?
Edesiri. Miriam is also my name. It is my English name. I just do not use it.
Jean-Pierre. You are my life. Please, if you ever want to leave me, just let me know say I can kill myself and just leave y'all alone. ce qui est la vie sans la personne que vous aimez? Tu es mon amour, tu es ma vie.
Edesiri: Please honey, lets go upstairs. Listen honey, I love you. I have never told you this and you hav always wondered why. I have had this huge secret and it has been weighing heavy on my mind. I love you Jean-Pierre. I love you. I will spend the rest of my life with you, if you will have me. I love my husband and my children, but not in the way that I love you. They are family, but you are my love, my passion. Personne n'a jamais fait l'amour avec moi comme vous le faites. Tu es mon amour, tu es ma vie That was the French words he always spoke to her "you are my love, You are my life". And as she said the words to him, she kissed him and meant the kiss. This was the life she wanted and who she wanted to spend it with. People may judge and say what they may, but this man in her arms, this was the man that she had come to love. Oghenero saw his wife kissing a man who held a gun and at that moment he knew he was in America. No No No. It was not a movie anymore. This was not James Bond or Django. A man was kissing his wife and he held a gun. Oghenero slowly closed the room door and stayed awake all night. The next day, Jean-Pierre took him to his house down the street. Jean-Pierre: (They entered into the tastefully furnished apartment) This is your place Mr Oghenero. My friend has agreed to give you a job at his warehouse. It is an easy job. You and Miriam can decide when you can have the kids over. I have to run. Oghenero: Thank you. (as he walked Jean-Pierre to the car, Jean-Pierre looked at him and said) Jean Pierre: I love Miriam. Please do not give her any trouble. Please! Oghenero woke up from his deep thoughts and looked at the woman in a white wedding gown beside him. He was at the wedding reception for him and Lola, his bride. He looked at his son Ejiro who had grown into a healthy tall young man. His fiance Jane was looking lovely beside him. His two daughters were beautiful princesses. Edesiri and Jean Pierre were smiling at him as the emcee asked him to dance with Lola his bride. He stood up and took Lola in his arms. Soo everyone joined them in the dance floor and Edesiri waltzed with Jean Pierre to him and they exchanged partners. He was dancing with Edesiri and he smiled at her. Oghenero: You look lovely as always omotena Edesiri: So do you, oshare na. Jean Pierre: Hey old man, you trying to snatch my wife at your own wedding? Give her back. (everyone smiles as Oghenero took Lola's hands and continued dancing with her. He did not know what to make of his life. He was had gone on to school and was a systems analyst and earning well. Two of his children were through with college and the last was fluent in French and Spanish and was valedictorian in her class. Lola was a nurse and had been introduced to him by his son on his routine medical trips to the hospital. He really didn't know what to make of his life. He had lost his wife and the man who took her from him was his benefactor and helper. Did that make him less of a man? He would never know the answer to that. Things had not gone the way he planned, but does it ever for anyone? Does not life throw us all a curved ball? Does it not depend on how we catch it? All he knew at this time was that he had a loving woman in his arms, his children were doing great, his ex-wife and he had raised them well and he was dancing. They said America was hard. Well if it was, he knew as he spun Lola in his arms that he had survived America.
Dedicated to the memory of the legend Amaka Igwe.