The clatter of the tea cup as my shaky hand settles in back on its platter is what jars me out of my reverie. What reverie? Weirdly enough I can’t tell. For me, this moment is like one of those random days when, you wake up and for the first few seconds, you don’t know who you are. Trying to remember what I was just thinking is like trying to catch the vapor rising off the surface of this cup. But like the shadows on the very edge of my peripheral vision, it fades away when I try to grasp for it. I am looking at the ripples in the coffee cup, and thinking nothing in particular. A question bubbles to the surface of my mind, and then it sinks right back. There is a scent that mixes with that of the coffee. I take a whiff of it, and it’s gone. I am still holding the handle of the cup, I stare at the hand I hold it with. The network of veins look like a map drawing of the creeks of the Niger. The skin over it is stretched like leather over a talking drum. This can’t be me. I’m–
The finger that snapped grabbed my attention. I look up suddenly. Ranti? I don’t feel like a Ranti. I start to look around for who snapped. Something about the eyes of the woman across the table from me, catches my attention. Her. Woman. The first thing I notice is her grey hair. It matches the tufts of hair on my forearms, and then contrasts with her black-as-night skin. Her skin looks like a crumpled scroll – the lines of her face like those on the squeezed paper, and the blackheads are like ink blots from a clumsy hand. Her honey colored eyes have that lustre of having seen too many battles. She stares at me, her gaze steady. There seem to be tear tracks on her face, or maybe it’s the lighting in the room.
For the first time, I look around. We’re in an alcove, and I sit facing what seems to be a larger room. I stand, the coffee and the strange old lady briefly forgotten. The need to explore this room is greater than the need to converse with this woman. I walk past the threadbare aubergine colored setee, the rug that looks like it has seen plusher days, the calendar on the far wall to my left with 24 marked on it with red ink. Something more important has caught my interest. I walk towards it. It’s a mantle — No, it’s a multi-level glass stand. I reach my hand for what caught my eye in the first place. It is a silver gilded picture frame. In it seem to be the happiest faces, frozen in time. It’s a young man and a woman, their arms around each others’ waists. Her head rests on his left shoulder and her gapped front teeth are apparent from her toothy grin. In the distance, behind them, there is what seems to one of the four legs of the famous Eiffel tower.
I drop that, and pick another. It’s the same man and woman. They look older but with a boy and a girl — the resemblance is uncanny. They look like an African Brady Bunch. Brady Bunch? Brady Bunch. Brady Bunch. I sigh hoping that it will all come to me. There are two other smaller picture frames with the two children, they are older and dressed in flowing wine colored garbs with a funny square shaped hat, that had a golden tassel, on their heads. They both grasped tubes the color of their robes with the happiest smiles on their faces. There were more pictures but the curiosity is gone.
I walk out of the living room, and try the first door to the right in the cramped hallway. It’s a bathroom. I feel no need to relieve myself but walk in anyway. Call it vanity, call it curiosity even, but I look at the mirror. The toilet is too small for me to jump back, but I do. I honestly do not recognise the face in the mirror. I touch the cold surface and then my own face. I run my hands over the lines — over the cheeks, frown lines and the crow’s feet. I pull at the extra skin on my neck, it somehow makes me think of a chicken. Then I realize, I am that man in the pictures — the happy man. Or rather I was. What happened to him – or rather, me?
I’m mulling over this as I slip out and I’m in another room. I can’t seem to remember which door I tried. There’s love in this room. It’s not the drawn curtains that shaft funnels of sunlight in, or the neatly laid bed. It’s the littler things. It’s the way the male and female shoes are arranged in no particular order at the multi-tier shoe rack under the window. It’s in the perfume, that hangs in the air, that seems to have followed me from the table I had coffee. It’s the books piled on one of the two bedside tables. There is yet another book, open on the bed. It’s bigger than the other three. I think I recognize one of the novels – The Notebook. All I remember about it, is a sadness that clutches at my chest. Light catches on something very close to the books. I walk over and pick it up. It’s a bracelet. I bring it closer so I can inspect it.
Then it hit me.
Some say it hits you like a tonne of bricks, others say it’s like an ice cold bucket of water poured over your head. I’m not sure how to describe it.
But it hit me nonetheless. I say it like this because I double over, like I’ve been punched in the gut. I try to take deep breaths and close my eyes to try to steady the room.
I remember it all now.
I hold the 18 Karat gold charm bracelet with silver charms on it in my hands and clasp it tight as my old bones will allow. I grasp to it like it’s all the life I have. It has 21 of those little silver cherubs on hanging from the chain of interlocking gold links. I know this because I bought it.
I, Oluwarantimi Shogunle, bought this bracelet for my wife– my wife, Gbemileke Adesola Shogunle 45 years ago.
I know without turning that she’s there behind me. It’s not the sob that wracks her throat, or how the smell of her Chanel No. 5 fills the room with her feminine strength. It’s the awareness that comes with a companionship spanning decades. I feel her warmth as she wraps her arms around me. Her podgy flesh is soft as feathered pillows. I resist the urge to sink back into her warm embrace, knowing she can’t hold us both. She’s shaking, leaving a little dampness on my back.
I remember, I say finally. She nods, her head still on my back. Happy anniversary, I say again, stumbling over the words. She holds me tighter after I say that. I remember, I say again as if trying to remind myself. How long was I gone? I ask, not really wanting to know the answer. Like she read my thoughts, she said nothing. I slip out of her embrace and walk over to the bed. I swipe the big book on it to the floor. I’m flooded with a cocktail of emotions – sadness, anger, fear and helplessness.
I am wondering, with great fear clutching my insides, when will the next episode be? How long will it be for? How long till I finally crash over the abyss that I see yawning it’s depths right at the edge of my line of vision.
I lower my right hand from clearing the wetness on my cheeks when a sob snaps me out of my reverie. What reverie? It’s right on the edge of my consciousness but I can’t seem to remember. More importantly, who is this old woman? And why does she look so sad? Why is she crying? How did I get here? Whose bracelet am I holding in my left hand?
I look away from her, to the ground. I feel like her outpouring of emotion like so, is a private experience. I notice the big book, like a defiled maiden with its page spread apart like legs splayed in wanton disgrace. I lift it off the ground. I look at the title — Be The Last Bastion of Hope – Coping When A Loved One Has Alzheimer’s. I wonder who could be reading this? A shiver runs down my spine. The book opens to a random page in that manner that books do when they wish to share a secret with you. There’s a sheet of paper, with the most beautiful handwriting I’ve seen in my life, on it. I don’t who it’s from or to whom, but I am curious. So I read.
My husband, my lover, my companion and my best friend.
A thousand waters cannot quench our love. On this day, 45 years ago, you made me your wife. At the time, I thought it was the happiest day of my life, then you proved me wrong. You topped that in many ways I can’t even begin to describe. Is it the way you named your – at the time – fledging business after me? Or how you turned down the offers to work outside the country just because you never wanted to leave me for a second? Or is it the way you held my hand and urged me on soothingly while we had the twins? Through this journey, you’ve been my soul-mate and my companion. You were my strength when I felt weak. I fell apart when Mama died, but you put me back together. You never stopped loving and supporting me for one second. This thing, this challenge, is the most difficult thing we’ve had to deal with in our lives together. But I am not dismayed. I won’t lie, it hurts that sometimes you do not remember my name, or who I am. It hurts that you may not remember that today is my birthday and also our wedding anniversary, but I also know it’s not your fault. I will not give up on you. Everyone – the children, our families and friends – has advised that I release you to a nursing home, but I can’t. I know you’d never do that to me. You married a woman who you’d never hear say the words “I love you”. You learned sign language for me even when your friends ridiculed you for loving a disabled woman. You could have had any woman you desired but you chose me. You chose me first, so at this difficult time, I choose you. I choose to love you and never give up. I reaffirm my love to you at such at time as this and on this special date for us.
Happy Anniversary, Olowo ori mi.
I love you with a love that will never see death
Photo credit: Atlantablackstar.com
July is a special month for us at BellaNaija. This year, as we celebrate our 6th anniversary, we hope to bring something special to our dear readers. Today’s BN Prose is the fourth of five anniversary themed stories you would read this month. We look forward to sharing more interesting features with you.