It was 4am on a chilly November dawn in Durham. Leonora clasped her arms around her knees which she’d drawn against her chest to her chin and stared at the sparse street, her grey eyes flitting to trail lone speeding vehicles. Her backless sequin gown hung like a sheepskin throw, weighty on her lithe body. Hours of dancing and perspiration had mussed her blonde hair now she sat at the bus stop absently scratching glitter off her arms and reliving the buzz through whiskey flavoured hiccups. She smelt the wind of rain in the distance. Maybe when Kofi got here, they could dance in the drizzle like they did after seeing Gotye in concert two weeks ago. She knew she could count on Kofi. She put him through a lot but he always showed up when she needed him.
Three hours later when she stirred from sleep Kofi was there, already dressed for lectures, studying at her desk. Medics had to study all the time. She didn’t know if they really did, but Kofi always did. He handed her a cup of tea and perched on the edge of her bed.
‘Did you sleep well?’ he asked
She groaned drowsily in response obviously hung-over.
‘I’m sorry babe’ came her hoarse whisper a few minutes later ‘I was lonely, I just wanted to go out and…’
‘Did you?..’ he paused to clear his throat clearly nervous. ‘Did you kiss anyone?’ He asked softly
She shook her head too quickly, her eyes refused to meet his. It wasn’t the first time it had happened or fifth, or tenth. Leonora was a bird –her mental illness her cage, her fuel, her excuse. He’d bought the morning after pill just in case. When he offered it to her, she didn’t object. His heart slumped. He immediately left to get some air.
He opened a pack of Marlborough Reds- a habit he’d picked up from her. His eyes stayed shut seconds after he had inhaled. He only smoked when he was stressed though, like now- Now that his world was falling apart. He loved her. How else could you explain it? He loved her goddess like beauty- like a creature from his boyhood dreams back in Ghana- angelic, perfect, and surreal. She took breaths away and seized trails of thought, every hour of everyday.
People gawked awestruck, wherever she went. He had been intimidated when they first met- through a brief introduction, choking on his pint and retreating with a racing heart and moist palms. The college JCR bar wasn’t big so she’d found him again amidst other freshers.
At 5”11 she towered over almost everyone in the room, except him. Kofi was 6”4 of lean muscle, striking in his own right with even toned skin the colour of galaxy minstrels. He had those guileless modest eyes though, of those unaware or insecure of their beauty –doubtless, remnants of a childhood of torment from kids at secondary school in Chorkor, Accra.
Leonora was more forthright than any of the girls back home. He was used to coy flirtation; girls, who waited for a man to make the first move, call first, ask them out first and make sexual advances first. Leonora’s fiery personality lit a match and burned those notions to ashes. She was the purest breed of raw confidence. He had been shy. What could they possibly have in common? What could he feasibly say that would be of interest to her? Leonora put him at ease; she had that silly sense of humour that warmed people to her almost instantly. The night they met, they sat on the floor talking and laughing playing each other their favourite songs till the sun rose.
Three months of intense passion had flown by – sun kissed picnics spotting patterns in the clouds, moonlit heart to hearts swigging disgusting cheap red wine, surreptitious rendezvous in their university digs. They talked about their families. Her father was an aristocrat who was 32nd in line to the British throne. His father was a Ghanaian fisherman who punched his wife and son around for kicks. They laughed at how horrified either set of parents would be to know that they were together. The only thing both of their parents had in common was mild racism.
She giggled at how he pronounced ‘and’ as ‘end’ and ‘crush’ as ‘crash’ and he laughed at how even howling drunk ordering chips at a kebab shop at 3am her inflection remained so dignified and she sounded like the freaking Queen.
‘Just try and talk like a normal person’ he pleaded jokingly. Her response which was a spurious attempt at a Ghanaian accent had them in hysterics.
When the boulder of her emptiness descended a month later, it came as a shock to Kofi. Her animated eyes became barren. She was edgy and temperamental –switching between frenzied screams at him and solemn withdrawal into herself. At times it seemed a stranger had inhabited her form. He couldn’t reconcile this cold ugly side of her with the girl he’d grown to love. At first he thought something was wrong. Had someone hurt her? Had he hurt her? She glossed over her issues with bulimia in her mid-teens when they’d talked but she seemed fine now on that front. Kofi had always been observant –He was sure this went beyond a bygone eating disorder.
He soon found out she was on medication and had been since she was fifteen. Borderline Personality Disorder, apparently. That explained the scars on her wrists cleverly concealed by tattoos. Her parents had arranged for her to go on Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) two years ago but that had not yielded any improvements. She refused to continue any form of treatment when she got to university. Her cousin Hamish’s visit had revealed all that. Leonora was off on one of her impulsive benders when Hamish rang Kofi to introduce himself. Hamish said Leonora spoke of him all the time- said he was her boyfriend. A lot of things were made clearer, like Leonora’s challenging relationship with her family. They loved her but they found her too difficult to deal with, like she was being that way on purpose to get a rise out of people. They just couldn’t understand it.
When Kofi asked Leonora about her illness and why she wasn’t taking the pills anymore, she stormed off and returned two days later high on drugs and tearful. He was all she had. Her family sent her more money than she would ever need and were ready to hire whatever medical expert she required but none of them, with the exception of Hamish was interested in visiting her. They found it too upsetting. Her depression was so devastating to witness. He could not reach her with coaxing winks and cuddles, reassurances and promises. He wanted her to be happy but her peaks were just as dangerous too – garnished with drugs and promiscuity. Where had his Leonora gone?
He thought about taking her to church. He hadn’t been in so long, he felt guilty even considering it now but that was the only thing left. He wasn’t sure what God would make of this but it was worth a shot if his mother’s devotion to her faith was anything to go by. On Sunday he could take her, he thought.
On Saturday around 8pm he made his way made his way across Whinney Hill to The Gates to pick up some food from Waitrose. He decided to take a stroll afterwards; the stiff frosty air was refreshing. He’d just spoken to a director at the NGO that sponsored his education. They had practically saved his life. His parents would never have been able to afford the fees of the secondary school he attended. He always worked hard to get the best grades, he wanted to buy his mother a house one day, get her out before his father hurt her seriously.
He always wanted to rescue people. His friends often joked that he had white knight syndrome. His mother was ecstatic when the NGO agreed to cover his university tuition abroad. She always prayed that their background would not inhibit her son’s potential. So many people back home believed in him, he would not let them down. He knew he’d have to move back to Ghana after University in the UK. He’d even thought of taking Leonora with him. She would love it. He loved the opportunities that England gave him but sometimes it was such an emotionally frigid place –it could feel like nobody cared. People could have neighbors they saw every single day for decades yet had never said a word to. He missed the feeling of belonging, of community in Accra. He could just imagine Leonora gleefully absorbing Accra the moment they landed at Kotoka International Airport.
Kofi never made it back that evening. He got run over by a drunk driver who had swerved across through the pavement and crashed into a shop. He had been absently texting and never saw the car coming. He was killed instantly. He never got to take Leonora to church or to see his hometown. He never got to see his sweetheart get better. His mother wept and his father drank uncontrollably- they had lost their only child. Leonora’s devastation was boundless. The loss of Kofi wrecked her world. As she lay in the psych ward, she replayed every single night they’d woven the threads of bliss with entwined fingers and kisses, staying up till the sun rose. The love of her life was gone.
Photo Credit: 123rf.com
Saratu Danjuma is a practicing lawyer who revels in (and preserves her sanity by) writing fiction and poetry. She also blogs at saratuwrites.wordpress.com.