Have you ever had to look for a dead rat? The smell from the decaying creature saturates the air like a heavy musk and engulfs your air passage like the mucus from a huge boil. You turn your house upside down looking for the damned creature in all the usual places, underneath the chairs, in-between the crevices of walls and behind your dressing table, all to no avail. The smell continues to pervade your home as you battle endlessly with cans of air fresheners and freshly scented oils. Then, one day, when you have finally given up hope, as the smell has all but eaten into the fabric of your home, you find the half decayed creature at the corner of your air conditioning vent, its semi-decomposed fur melting into the plastic of your cooling device. Ecstatic, you scream, grateful that you’ve found the wretched creature and wonder how it found such an awkward place to pass its last breath.
The same is true about love. You search for it in the most usual of places, at church, hook-ups, parties and in the arms of old friends – all without actualization. Then just as you are about to give up, just as you are about to throw in the towel and launch into the “who-needs-a-man?” attitude you find it. Dusty, rugged and entirely the opposite of what you planned. But you know it’s love because, …well because it is. You can’t explain it, you can’t define it and you can’t quite put your finger on how it happened but you know without a shadow of doubt, that it is love. The feeling literally catapults you unto a magical carpet ride. Your eyes are wired shut as little winged animals dance around in your gut and your heart threatens to implode from the sheer rush of it all.
This is exactly what happened to a friend of mine – Nneka*. After years of searching for love, she found Bayo*. But he wasn’t the tall, accomplished, age appropriate man she had spent the latter part of her twenties dreaming about. Instead he was a self-assured, 26 year old who was just starting his career. She on the other hand was 31, had her own flat and was a well positioned manager at a thriving multinational company. They’d met at a training course where she was an invited speaker and he was part of the tutees. They exchanged business cards during lunch and, barely two weeks later, their lips were locked in passionate kiss. At first, she thought it would be something physical, where she could find some sort of avenue to release sexual tension. But, as the relationship progressed, she found that the only physical tension was the difference in their ages. Bayo, to her, was perfect in every other respect. They shared similar passions in life; he understood her better than anyone she had ever dated and, more importantly, she knew he loved her and she loved him too. Unfortunately, a five-year age difference, coupled with the vast gap in their career and financial standing, caused Nneka to hide her relationship with her young lover from her friends for months- including me. But anytime we met up, I always commented about how radiant she looked. At one point, I actually suspected that she might be pregnant because she just had this glow and calmness about her.
In January this year, Nneka relented and told me about her relationship with Bayo. With tears in her eyes, she told me how Bayo had proposed on the 31st of December and how the realization of the hopelessness of their relationship finally hit her. The ring which was meant to be a symbol of his love for her became a reminder instead of just how impossible their love was to be. Nneka literally quivered as she asked me how she could marry someone who was not only younger in age, but was totally incapable of taking care of her. How was she going to introduce him to her parents? What would people think? Her biggest fear was also meeting his parents. “His mother would think I am an old dried-up woman who wants to come and steal her son” she said in between tears. I felt sorry for her on many levels. Being an old friend, I had seen her struggle in previous relationships and even without being told, I had seen the glow of happiness that she basked in when she was with Bayo. And now I could see the pain and bitterness she was in as she relayed her tale to me and her tears stained my pillowcase.
When she finally left my house, I couldn’t help but wonder how unpredictable love really is. We really have no way of choosing who we fall in love with. People argue that loving with your head is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of love; I disagree. Personally, I am of the opinion that any type of love which flows from a sensible disposition isn’t love; rather, it’s a watered down version of the original thing. To me, love is all about reckless abandon, the unexpected turn of events that make life colourful and worth living for, not the pre-calculated set of events that lead you to the one you think you ought to be with. To me the beauty of love is sometimes found in the awkwardness of the events that surround it all. The effort put in by both parties to surmount the challenges of being together, the difficult times that end with renewed reinstatements of love and the eventual strength of depth between the couple when they realize just how much they have overcome to be together. That, to me, is the genuineness of love- the capacity to make it work regardless of the awkward places in which we find it.
After much blood and tears, Nneka and Bayo will be getting married in two weeks. In February, Bayo got promoted to Assistant Regional Director, the youngest person in his company’s history to ever hold that position and has been transferred to the UK head office. The couple have decided to have a small civil ceremony with close friends and family just before they relocate. Nneka’s warm happy glow has returned and her mother-in-law to be loves her like a daughter.
To me, the lesson in this story is simple- sometimes it is in the awkwardness of love that we find the perfection we seek.
*The names and dates in this story have been changed to reflect the privacy of all those concerned.
Photo Credit: African Fathers