You know it is love because it is the only thing you have never really felt for a man, and you’ve felt them all – mild attraction, lust, and even pity. Your body is pulsing hard and your fingers are all glistened with sweat.
You are sitting on the park bench where it all began. You’re here because he’ll be here. He didn’t say it out loud, but he’s been here everyday for the past thirty days.
This park, this beautiful white elephant project that had been commissioned by a braggart of a governor is the meeting point for your two-member book club.
Gillian Flinn, Gone Girl, book of the week.
You flip the pages of the book. You can’t read a word. You think about his long fingers, the fingers of a pianist, and you wonder if they will trace the stretch marks on your belly and caress your loose skin.
Ifiok finds your scars beautiful, but then Ifiok thinks everything about you is beautiful.
You push Ifiok from your mind. You replace his image with that of your stranger, the one that you’re waiting for.
You had taken a walk that evening you first met your stranger. You had chosen to walk across the park because you needed to be alone. You got tired and sank down on the park bench and you…
You were startled to see the man, the beautiful man who sat beside you reading a book.
“Who are you?” you fired at him. Why had he chosen this park bench when there were several others?
“It is a public park,” he replied with a smile, and then he just sat there and read.
You didn’t speak another word. You just relaxed there in the fading light and absorbed the beauty that emanated from the gorgeous, nonthreatening man.
You stood up to leave after forever and he stood with you.
“Honestly, I couldn’t leave you napping out here alone. Just wanted to wait till you woke,”
You mumbled a thank you.
“Also, this is my favourite bench in the park. I read here almost everyday.”
You went back the next day. His last words to you had been an invitation, or so you thought. He came.
He brought you a copy of Gone Girl.
He said the book was better than the movie.
You went back the following day. He touched you lightly on the shoulder when he spoke. Your body flared.
You wanted the touch to be deeper, you wanted clothes to be discarded, and you wanted your sweat and his sweat to flow together and bond your skin to his.
You have read five books on that park bench.
You love him, and the love you feel leaves you heady and nauseous. Real love is like motion sickness. Settling is safe and boring. And you had settled.
When you were twenty-four, Ifiok asked you to marry him. You said yes because you were not supposed to believe in soulmates and the fine gentleman with the well-paying job and very little family baggage had shown interest.
Your mother had wondered if you loved him.
You told her you did. And you did, in a safe, drama-free way. He was good to you. He was safe and predictable. You returned the favour. How were you to know that toe-curling love waited in the future?
You’d been going to the park for fifteen days when you returned home and found your husband waiting.
He wept when he saw you. Snot, tears, and sweat soaked through your blouse as he cried between your breasts. He made love to you that night. It had been a year since the last time. When he was spent, he fell asleep on top of you. You did not dislodge him. You just bore the weight of the world on your body while your silent tears flowed.
Your stranger approaches the park bench. The dimple deepens as he smiles when he notices you watching. He is tense. You know that your relationship will be altered today, for good or for bad.
If it turns out bad, you have been through worse. You will live. If it turns out well, if he finally verbalizes all the feelings you have also been plagued with, how will you tell Ifiok?
He blamed you at first when your toddler slipped through the rails and lay like a wingless angel four storeys down. He questioned your mothering abilities. Later, he blamed himself for not being man enough to ensure his house was childproof. Then the blame had transformed into hate. He can’t stand himself. It has been a year since your little angel flew, and the safe love you used to feel for Ifiok has transformed into something dangerous – indifference.
The war within you intensifies as your stranger sits besides you. You start the book club. You are talking about Adichie’s Americanah when he silences you with his hot mouth open on yours. You’re still.
He backs away. He searches your eyes.
“I’m sorry,” He says.
“Why?” your voice is creaky so you clear your throat. “Why are you sorry?” You ask again. You smile.
He stands. He is smiling too.
“I live very close to here,” he says. “Wanna see?”
So many thoughts run through your mind, but the thought that gains ground and silences others is the one screaming in your head. Your head says that this is love, or grief, so all is fair.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Sam74100