The bus conductor had cheated her. She was certain of it. She knew it because of the way he lowered his voice and told her, “Orile na 150” when she had asked how much. Every other person that boarded after her paid ₦100. She knew he cheated her because of how she was dressed. What was it about her that gave people the impression that they could fleece her? Why did it happen all the time? Immediately she started to sob. The tears poured and her nose ran. She bent her head forward onto the seat in front of her as the sobs raked her entire body.
Everyone turned to stare at her wondering why she was crying. Someone pushed some tissue into her palm; she took it gratefully and held it to her nose. She hadn’t been expecting to cry on the bus and she wasn’t even crying because the bus conductor had cheated her of ₦50. She wasn’t crying because she had woken up an hour later than usual, or that after hurriedly dressing up and going out to the bus stop, she had tripped and her six-inch heels had broken cleanly off her feet and she had had to beg for a ride back home to get proper shoes.
It had been a bad day, but it wasn’t the worst she’d experienced. It wasn’t like that March day when the rain fell heavily and as she got on a bike to Mile 2, the bike man lost control while navigating a pothole and had landed both of them in a muddy puddle. The real reason she was howling this morning was because Daniel had broken up with her four days ago. She wasn’t sure which hurt more—that he had ended the relationship or that he had done it via WhatsApp.
* * * * * * * *
It had been a simple message: Hey, I don’t think this can work anymore. It’s time to move on.
She called immediately, told him to stop overreacting, that just because they fought and stopped talking for two weeks didn’t mean it was over. But her calls didn’t go through; he had blocked her line.
* * * * * * * *
She took a cab straight to the office from the bus stop and went in through the back to avoid the raised eyebrows and questioning glances she was sure to get because of her disheveled hair and make-up smudged face.
Once inside her office, she locked the door, kicked off her shoes and took out the letter from Ugonwanne. She read it so many times and even knew some lines by heart. But she would read it again; it gave her so much comfort.
I received your letter three days ago and I was amused. Do you remember the last time I tried to give you relationship advice and you said you would never tell me anything about your private life again?
Well, I’m glad you changed your mind.
First of all, your boyfriend (or ex-boyfriend) is a complete moron to have a girlfriend like you and throw away your relationship over a fight. I’m saying this not just to make you laugh, but because it is true. You are a remarkable young woman and if I were to have named you, I would call you Sunshine.
I know that the break up hurt you. I saw the tear stain marks on your letter. They blotted the ink, made the paper blue. It reminds me of the time when you were six years old and I bought you the ice cream with the toffee flavoring because I thought it tasted better than the strawberry you wanted. You refused to be consoled and I had to carry you throughout the day and rock you till you fell asleep, after making me promise to buy you three large cups of strawberry ice-cream the next day. But you are no longer a girl of six. You are a young woman of twenty-four. I would have told you that at your age, you have no business dating, but you are far too stubborn to listen to me. So Chi, if you will listen to this old coot one more time, this is what I would tell you:
Cry your heart out. Mourn him and your lost relationship. Walk around in pyjamas bottoms all day, cry yourself to sleep. Wake up and refuse to brush your teeth for the whole day. Don’t try to blot the pain away. Don’t pretend that you are okay. Don’t post pictures of you going out and having so much fun to prove to him that you can get on just fine without him. When someone asks if you are fine, don’t put on a plastic smile and say you have never been better. Tell them, “No. I’m not really okay, but I will be.” And when they ask you for details, decline nicely and tell them you don’t want to talk about it. I told you to mourn him, but do not shut yourself off and become morose. Go out on dates, not random blind dates like a woman with a ticking clock in search of a husband. Accept the invitation to go to the gallery with that Chuks boy that works in the art studio close to your office, or go out for drinks with your colleague Chris, or to the movies with your brother and his friends. Let yourself out of your cage, but hold on tightly to your heart. It belongs to you, so take your time before giving it away.
I know you will roll your eyes when you read this, but start praying. Go down on your knees by your bedside every night like I taught you and pray, or better still, you can sit on the loo, since you said you are most alert on the loo. Think of me when you pray, it’ll make it a lot easier. Don’t pray like they teach you to do at church, starting with monotonous praise songs, then praying point after point, ending each sentence with a thunderous “In Jesus’ name I pray.” If you do this, you will sleep off within the first five minutes, whether or not you are sitting on the loo. Just barrel on like you would with me. Spend some time with yourself, but spend more time with other people. I know that there is a lot you are looking for, but there is also a lot you can give. It is a lot easier for you to smile when you make others smile.
You said some horrible things about Daniel in your letter, like the fact that he snored like a he-goat, and that his morning breath could give you ulcer. But we both know you didn’t mean any of it and that you said this just to make yourself feel better. I do not ask you to forgive him, instead I ask you to understand, to extend to him the same grace that you would yourself. Do you remember your answer three years ago when I asked why you ended your relationship with Kachi (or was it Kene? I don’t remember)? You said, “Just because.” I didn’t scold you then and I do not even now. You gave yourself the right to walk out of a relationship that left you unsatisfied. You have to realize that just as you do not attach significant value to everyone in your life, not everyone in your life would attach significant value to you too. You have to recognize this and give them the freedom to leave without any malice.
You will know when the worst of the storm has passed, when you can laugh again. To laugh is one of life’s simplest gifts — so precious, yet so easily taken for granted. You will know when you really laugh by the reckless abandon with which the sounds escape your throat, devoid of self-consciousness.
Take a week off to the Malulu Resort. Tell them to give you a suite on the twelfth floor; it has the best view. Order room service always, but I’ll recommend you dine downstairs on Thursdays — they always have a live jazz performance. Try their prime rib special, but tell them to serve it traditional and charge everything to my account.
Lastly, you may do all of this and it would not cure your hurt or the sudden stab of pain in your chest when you think about him, but don’t dwell too much on it. Always remember to breathe. I think I am due for a leave this year, and I will come visit this Christmas. Enclosed in the parcel is a bottle of Pure Heaven perfume I think you would like. It won’t take you to heaven, but you might come close.
With Love Always,