When you were 23 the suitors came in droves. Uko, the Americanah that wanted you to follow him to Huston. Anietie, the local one who owned a row of stores at the market and looked at you like he was inspecting a young nanny-goat. Michael, whose father tapped wine and lived in a small thatch house. Many others whose names you didn’t know because you never met them. They went straight to your father to ask for your hand. Each got the same response.
” Adiaha is still in school. I won’t receive any drinks from any suitors till she is through. Come back next year…”
And so the suitors left. Only they did not come back the next year. Or the next. Two years later your belly was swollen and your monthly flow was like a broken fountain, spurting, gushing, unending. The doctors diagnosed fibroids.
The gynaecologist’s twisted smirk crushed your aching heart.
“I’m sorry Joan. It’s a good girl’s scourge. The bad ones get abortions, the good ones get fibroids. Your womb may not be able to bear after this operation. We are sorry.”
You were tongue-tied, submerged in a pool of questions, doubts and fear. Food lost taste, soon you were going whole days without a meal. Your clothes began to sag then were entirely useless.
Your friends tried to console you. Amina came with her twins in tow and a belly so large it floated ahead of her.
“Joan, don’t let this get to you. You have so much to live for. A beautiful and intelligent girl like you will definitely find love. The doctors who said you won’t have babies are not God. Eat something, anything, please.”
You nodded and promised to try, but her visit just made you feel barren.
Pelumi brought you music, books and perfume but you couldn’t touch any of it, wouldn’t touch any of it. Was a song a man? Was a baby a book? Was the perfume something that made dreams come true?
Terwase cracked jokes at first, but when all he heard was his own hollow laughter he gave up. He sent you airtime instead; it piled up in your phone unused. The next thing you heard he was in England doing his Masters.
Soon the fainting attacks came. One minute you stood by the window watching the chicken strut past and the next you didn’t. You woke up to see your mother crying as she sponged your face and muttered prayers. Your father stood by the doorway with a worried look on his face, gripping his mug of coffee.
You thought of death. You imagined it to be a sweet release, an end to pain, shame and suffering. You traced your fingers over the fibroid op scars and wondered why you were still alive. Was this all? Was this worth it?
When your younger sister Peace brought her fiancé home they were dressed in matching green kaftans. You smiled through out the introductory visit but already you felt like an old hag. The man never came back though and you as you listened to Peace scream out her pain, you realized it was time to heal. You realized that you had to save yourself, no super heroes would be rescuing you.
You took baby steps. First, you cut your hair and dyed it auburn. Then you began to jog. Your appetite improved and your cheeks filled out. Some old clothes began to fit again. You started yoga and liked it. You tried heavy lifting and hated it. You began to text back your friends.
When you saw the call for volunteer nurses you ignored it but it stayed in your head all day. You applied the next day and forgot all about it. Weeks passed with no reply. Then the email came. You were invited to spend two weeks in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Malkohi, Adamawa state. You began to sweat and nearly backed out but you didn’t.
The twelve hour ride from Umuahia to Malkohi left you drained and dizzy but the next two weeks were some of the most fulfilling of your life. You made new friends in the make-shift clinic. You tried new foods. You saved lives. And you met Gbenga.
Gbenga worked with an NGO piloting the use of renewable energy in household fuels. He was an inch or two taller than you were, he made you laugh. He said you were the most beautiful person he had ever seen and you believed him.
When the project was over, you didn’t want to leave. You stayed in for one more week and let Gbenga count how many kissed it took to cover your back.
You followed him to Abuja, to his nice little two bedroom flat in Asokoro and his overweight cat called Max. When you visited home a month later your parents said you glowed.
Gbenga called everyday. He wanted you back. He didn’t want to lose you. He even found a job for you in a private hospital.
You were late that month, but you didn’t notice. It wasn’t possible, the doctors had said so. But when you went for a scan eight weeks later there was no mistaking the heart beating furiously on the screen.
You couldn’t tell anyone but you knew you were keeping the baby. You found a job in a clinic and moved to your own place. You weren’t ready when Gbenga showed up at your house one Saturday morning. You cried when he proposed.
You hugged yourself at night and willed time to standstill while Gbenga smiled in his sleep. You didn’t know what would happen next but you were content.