When Tomorrow Calls
By Veronica Nkwocha
Words swirl around my head, like a twitter of birds I can’t control. It is morning but I remain prone, on my bed. I sink deeper into the sheets and pluck a phrase here and another there from free singing birds outside my window. It is not good. I search and pluck despair from the twits that won’t stop. They sound chirpy enough but I refuse their reign, I fold myself. Away from any happiness. I do not deserve it.
Yesterday it rained. Hard pelting rocks that resembled white walls crumbling down like the foam surfers leave in their wake. I could not see through the slush that ran down my face, my cheeks. I stood in the rain.
My penance fizzled. In an instant, bright sunshine ruled. I craved the wet. A shower from a passing car slicing through the flooded street washed over me. I stood waiting.
‘Lord wash me, cleanse me.’
A resolute silence clung to me like my wet clothes draped around me like a morbid shroud.
A honking car slowed to a near stop waiting for me to move to safety, the driver nodding politely, I pitied him. I trudged away from his path.
My wet feet left soggy prints on the thin carpeting, I peeled of my clothes as I walked to my bedroom, the warmth indoors cloying, draining.
Sleep eluded me. Dark thoughts consumed me.
In a basin along with others, my baby lay. Given up before their time. I had thought long and hard and reached the same conclusion every time. For me there was no choice. As had the others. But mine was worse. I had gone of my own volition. I Laraba Nelson.
It began, many months ago. A day like any other in the dry season. Lectures had ended and I had gone to the lady down the road just at the road that forked left to the grounds of the Theatre Arts Department to buy recharge cards.
As usual, I pretended that was all I was out to do but after I loaded the digits on to my phone, I stared long and hard to make sure I wasn’t cheated. Then I asked for another card all the while looking through a veil of my braids to see if he would come.
The birds continue their dance of whatever it was that had them singing this un-merry morning. I get up to shush them. I grab a broom and fling it against the netting on my window. A cloud of dust and the thudding sound send them flying. The momentary silence has me floundering. I sink into the sheets and they resume their chirping.
They make sweet music. Like we made sweet love. Their notes hold a tenderness and a gentleness. Like Ahmed. They call and another answers, rolling the sounds, floating, merry, crisp. Ahmed. Ah Ahmed.
It has to be a sin. To love so strongly and to cut so deeply.
Soyayya, ruwan zuma.
Love and honey. It must be a sage who thought up the saying.
My eyes are like fire when they spy him walking down that fork in the road. He is not alone. The bright sunshine that surrounds him, bounding off the near white sands of the encroaching deserts in the savannah make like one walking on a sheet of pouring gold. I drink him. Silently through a veil of my braids.
He walks past me, as always. He asks the lady for a recharge card. His companion asks for a bottle of coke.
“Would you like a drink, sister?”
His companion asks. I stutter. I can’t believe Ahmed is looking at me intently, a question in his eyes. The voice of Jacob but the hand of Esau. Nothing good will come of this. I am warm from the gold of his gaze, I take the drink from the outstretched hand of his companion.
I am so shy I sit under the mango tree as we finish our drinks. I do not say one word. They argue about the latest results from the Premier League. It is strange living in my dreams. I am sitting next to Ahmed. I spy the fuzz on his arm resting next to me. I want to run my hands down through the hairs, they look soft. He tells his point to Joseph and they nearly stand up at odds with each other about a particular point.
“What’s your name?”
It is Joseph again.
“Ah, lovely name. Ahmed here just smashed his medical exams.”
Ahmed and I lock eyes. I notice his has a question in them.
“You’re so beautiful Laraba” Ahmed says.
I lower my gaze
They both smile.
Of course I know who he is, his pedigree, and his renown. Everyone on campus knew of his family, his ancestry, a long line of royals.
I only ever came here to day dream, out of his league. Even I Laraba knew to be honest with myself.
I pinched myself. I winced.
We part. I thank them for the drinks.
The canaries flit and float, they sing trapped in their very large cage. Their yellow bellies are the part I love best about them. Like tiny balls of cotton. Ahmed loves my fascination with them. They are his favourite. Of all the animals in their sprawling compound, the horses, ostriches, peacocks, his mum’s Pomeranians and more.
He likes to wake up to their singing. I love that about him. That he would love them, fragile, beautiful.
“What gives you the right to intrude on our peace? How can you even do this to yourself? You realise this will end badly don’t you?”
It is Sameera. His sister back home from Law School in Lagos. We had tried to be discreet. Him sneaking me into his room, his parents blissfully unaware.
Love made me. I knew I should have put boundaries. To stop after I had my fill. I knew to make memories for my old age, for when I would sit at the porch like other old women and have a knowing smile, of my one true love. The one we love and can’t be with.
But I couldn’t help myself. I was everywhere with Ahmed. I moved my daydreams a notch further. I began to envisage marriage. Maybe someone would sweep into our compound, take a look at the forlorn nondescript house, shake his head at the irony and march to the door asking for my father. A letter in hand, he would open it with a flourish. An official letter bearing a coat of arms would fall to the ground and he would pick it up with manicured hands.
We would in the blink of an eye move from being paupers to co inheritors of a royal lineage. The family tree traced by a fluke of a historian bearing a record from a forgotten time. And then I would become able to marry my prince.
To be honest, I tried to pinch myself every time the day dreams began to run off. But the sweetness of honey is addictive. Ahmed was as addicted to me. We wove tales. Of how he would come into his own money and set up a new business for dad and my brothers, surely we could latch on to a faraway uncle or chief who would agree we met the pedigree of those who could marry royalty.
Sameera invaded my dreams. Every time I drifted off, she followed. A trail of ‘end badly, end badly, end badly…’ lingered like the waft from our backyard after the rains. Plumbing was a luxury out of our reach.
He came, bearing a letter. The stranger refused to sit gravely delivering his message. My father jumped up calling out to my mother. A doctor. Laraba. Marriage. My mother ululating, my neighbour ululating, my aunties danced into the compound. I was made to sit down. It was all too much to bear.
Dreams do come true. What better gift to a grown daughter. The gods had smiled down. Just finishing university and I am getting married. A good marriage.
The days are heavy with the threat of the first rains. The clouds are grey and heavy. The rumble of thunder comes but it is a message from afar. It is pouring in the neighbouring town but we remain dry. A cloud of dust lifts up here and dissipates creeping up unexpectedly raining a shimmer of fine sand on corn and beans drying on top of granaries dotted here and there.
The voice on the other end of the phone is unfamiliar yet polite and gentle.
“You will enjoy England. Your nursing degree is valued here.”
I nod through my tears, under the guava tree. I speak to him and caress my midriff.
I must tell Ahmed. That our tender baby lies cradled in my belly. Made with the sweetest love possible. The most beautiful baby ever. He or she will take the best of both of us. His laugh and his kindness, my smile.
In my dreams I tell him and he hugs me excitedly. He takes me to his mother. She is overcome with joy for her grandchild. Eons of tradition fall like a pack of cards. His father rises like a king over all, over pariahs and taboos. We are knit together by time and by a beautiful ceremony, I the blushing bride.
I walk out of my father’s compound, a prelude to my new life. First I stopped for an appointment with the doctors. For my journey to England, I have to walk alone, empty of my child. Bereft of Ahmed.