The author of this piece is no stranger to us, she has written some beautiful stories and opinion articles for this blog and this one touches on a subject that is fast becoming a norm in our society today. I personally can relate to several aspects of the story and I hope it would spark a discourse on the major topic-you know we like hearing what y’all think. Enjoy!
An Awkward Reality
Jeniffer Chioma Amadi
It’s a bright sunny day, the weather, unusually friendly but Lola still has this ominous feeling that a dark cloud is hovering over her mind. She had felt coming home and being surrounded by family would do her good but yet the same loneliness which hugged her sending chills to her soul when she had been alone at her apartment still hugged her now. Life had taken a new look like a sort of nightmare and she wished she’d wake up, from it, soon.
Just when she’d thought her life was beginning to wear a positive look-with her dream job, a private apartment at a lush-green area, in one of those government reserved areas in Lekki, and the fulfilling joy of knowing that she was about settling down with the man of her dreams, the unexpected happened. She couldn’t explain how or why it happened. Yet, it was stark reality, a sadness that had replaced the happiness she once felt. The times had changed so fast. Barely, three months ago she was so confident about her life, but now, she couldn’t account for anything and wasn’t looking forward to anything either. Things, suddenly, had changed.
Reminiscing became a hobby and on this day, it her experience with Emeka that took the front seat.
She remembered attending the premarital counseling sessions with Emeka, which was one of the requirements for a wedding in her church. It had been a smooth ride, not until suddenly, when they seemed to have crashed into an awkward reality. One particular day, during the counseling session, something happened that left a shocker and marked the beginning of many questions about their lives. It had happened when the counselor asked each of them about their religious beliefs.
Emeka was quick in reading out what he felt was his belief, as if it came straight from a book. Lola’s eyes popped wide open with surprise. She was shaking with fright, not willing to accept what she’d just heard. Emeka’s beliefs were totally different from hers. And she confronted him immediately in the counseling room. Emeka, shocked himself, tried to defend his stand. For the first time, in their relationship, they found themselves arguing about basic truths of the bible; about the basis of Christianity. But thanks to the counselor, who drew their attention back and simply asked,
“How come you two never discussed this aspect of your lives?”
The question the counselor raised, stirred something between them, they never thought, the issues raised were necessary. If they had, then, it means they must have taken them for granted. That very day, the counselor left them with some food for thought,
“Do you two think you can handle the differences in your beliefs? You see, this will form one of the basis of the new home you want to start together. Go home and think about it.”
These questions and many more rang in Lola’s head as they approached the car. There was a silence, dried like a loaf of bread exposed to harmattan, until Emeka broke it.
Squeezing her hand tight and staring into her eyes
“Baby, I am sorry about my outburst today”.
“It’s fine! But I was really taken aback, I can’t believe our beliefs would be so different” Lola said trying to shake off the shock.
“My love, I think we just need time to understand ourselves better. Misunderstandings such as these are normal in any relationship” Emeka said trying to reassure her.
With what happened back there, Lola was sure that things wouldn’t be the same. Observing her silence, Emeka could feel the fear in her so many unvoiced questions. Even though this frightened him a bit, he managed to say,
“I really love you Lolly”.
She smiled lightly and then whispered, “I love you too Emmy”.
They drove home, saying fewer words.
After that day, Lola lost her peace of mind. Scenes from the counseling session replayed in her memory continuously until she developed a slight headache and decided to confide in few matured married folks. Each person she confided in gave her almost the same answer.
One said, “Those are the essentials that are supposed to guide your home especially in bringing up your kids. Not when mom says A is true, Dad says A is false. Both of you have to develop one mindset of the essentials of scriptures. Else, walk away because it will always raise its ugly head in your marriage.”
Another said, “If only the both of you would agree because two can’t walk together except they agree. Let the bible be your guide on this one, Lola.”
The last person said, point blank, “A broken relationship is way better than a broken home and don’t be led by your emotions, let your senses be in charge. Your head, not your heart.”
Lola begged for things to go back to normal but that was close to impossible. She was always thinking, trying to figure out how she and Emeka would work their differences out. She even thought of compromising her beliefs for him but found it so hard. “We’ll work this out. I know we will.” She thought to herself.
Emeka was a source of strength and Lola always saw him as a glimpse of hope to the entire menfolk. He was so different from any man she had ever met. He understood her in so many ways even without her saying a word. Prior to this time, he was her only confidant because he knew how to listen to every word she says and his opinions on different issues were almost always correct. To top all his amazing attributes, he was dark which complemented her light skin, tall and had a face that seemed perfectly molded or as Lola would say, heavenly-all she ever wanted in a man.
She recalled all the poems he had written her from the first day they’d started dating. She thought about how they grew from innocent handshakes to holding hands and then to hugs that would never end and the first time he kissed her, she thought she’d melt. They would have gone further but decided to wait for the right time to get the blessings that comes with marriage. “Right time indeed”, Lola said, sighing.
Emeka had specific times for calling. When her phone rang, she knew it was Emeka calling. They would have had a nice conversation as usual, only that this time, Lola kept asking lots of questions about his beliefs and kept comparing and contrasting. It got to a point where they started quoting different scriptures concerning different issues. It seemed like they both had backing for everything and were ready to defend them. That night’s conversation ended on a low note. In trying to lift her spirit up a bit, Lola began to replay most of the good times they had and tried to imagine a future together. “So much for thinking with your head Lola”, she said to herself.
After several weeks of disagreements, fewer talks, less outings and both claiming to be busy, Lola decided it was time to think straight and save them both from a disaster. She called for an evening date at their favorite beach.
As usual Emeka came to pick her from her house and was surprised Lola’s dressing was unusually simple compared to their other dates but he didn’t care so long as they were together, that was all that mattered to him. That evening the beach was quite cold, serenity sang melodiously and the tides were settled just as if nature knew what was on her mind.
When they had settled a bit, Lola began to speak so softly,
“Umm. I haven’t had peace of mind in the last two months”.
Feeling relieved, Emeka said “I noticed. That’s why we’re talking right?”
Trying to fight back the unease within her, she replied “Yes. I figured that talking in the beach would do us good”.
“Yes it sure will. It’s such a beautiful evening. So tell me what’s on your mind?” Emeka said looking at the sea.
Taking his hands and holding them tightly “Anything I’m about to say, doesn’t in anyway affect my love for you. Do you understand?” Lola said.
He looked at her then and asked with a teasing smile “Is it just me or does that sound a bit scary”
“Scared is the word. I think I’m scared of our future together”. She expected a reply but as always, he was calm to listen so she continued “I thought I had this whole thing figured out but realized I failed. I was so carried away by the thought of being with you that I never reasoned with my senses, and now we’re at this point. I was carried away by our dates, how you made me feel, and all the juicy part of our relationship which I now feel were irrelevant”
Emeka remained calm trying to put the puzzles together as she spoke. “Now I’m wondering how we got this far without facing reality” She said trying to take hold of the struggle tearing her apart.
Then Emeka finally spoke “Is this about that day at the counselor’s?”
“No Emmy! It’s about our future together. That day only made me realize how I failed”
Emeka shifted closer looking straight at her as if he was trying to read her mind “Failed? You’ve been great all these years. We were even close to perfect!”
Lola knew the words she spoke weren’t coming out the way she intended but she continued “I know what we had was great and sincerely I don’t think it is ever going to be same with another”.
Perplexed by her words Emeka grew still and then managed to say “Lolly, what on earth are you saying? I’m totally lost here. What we had? Seriously, I’m confused.”
Lola tried to make him understand better and just let the words flow “Emeka, how can we build a home on two parallel beliefs? It wouldn’t be able to stand the test of time. Maybe you want a broken home, I don’t!”
Emeka, then realized her point, said quietly “I can’t believe I would ever lose you on religious grounds”.
“Emmy religion is one big part of our lives; it shapes our belief system and eventually our lives”. Trying to make him see things clearly, she added “Emeka we’ll have kids, which one are we going to teach them? I will never forgive myself if all we do is quarrel each day, taking the kids to different churches and making them choose between the both of us who to believe”.
Emeka knew where these thoughts came from, so he tried to make her know he understood her struggle “I believe in God and Jesus, Lola! Isn’t that all that matters? You’re making it sound like I’m a Muslim or worst. My love, these are just fears. We just need talk more about this issue. We can handle this in a mature way and get a solution”. He continued trying to reassure her “Okay, if the kids’ belief is your fear, I wouldn’t mind leaving you to teach them whatever you want. I promise never to interfere with what you teach them but please let’s not handle this issue the way you’re going, at least for the sake of what we have”.
Lola tried to find comfort in his words but still tried to make him think straight “Emeka you’ll be the head of the family, I’m only a helper. I’ve seen so many broken homes. Honey, I don’t want us to end up that way. Please think this through”.
As always Emeka, the reassuring one, held her close “Darling, the fact that a billion and one people have broken homes doesn’t mean we’ll end up like them. Where’s your faith?”
Giving in to her tears, Lola lacked words and simply admitted “Is not strong enough for this.”
“Then let me be your faith. Let me kiss away your fears. Let’s trust God together, I thought that’s what you always said worked” Emeka said searching her eyes.
“Emmy…” She whispered.
Lola realized they wouldn’t end up with a decision, so she slipped the engagement ring into Emeka’s palm. The look on his face made her regret her actions but if she had come this far, she was going to finish it.
“I’m sorry, my love” she said.
Emeka tried to fight his tears and became defensive “I can’t believe you would throw away what we had for almost six years. I thought we had an understanding”.
He slipped back the ring back in her hand and said “Keep it! Return it when you’ve got another reason”.
They sat on the sand without a word and drove back home in silence.
Now here she was, weeks later on the bed lying confused and hopeless, thinking and crying because every memory comes with its pain.
Walking into Lola’s room, Kemi Olajide, can’t help but wonder why Lola would lock herself up in such a stuffy room. So she walks towards the window tying the curtains and opening the windows making sure it is bright and airy and then turns to observe how Lola covered herself up from head to toe in such a hot weather. Taking the blanket off from Lola’s face, she shakes her gently
“Lola Lola Lola!” She watches her open her eyes slowly and ask “Lola se o gbadun? (Lola, are you alright?)
After she gains consciousness Lola manages to say “Good morning”.
“Morning? Lola it’s almost 4pm”
“I’m sorry, good afternoon” Lola apologized
Looking into her granddaughter’s eyes, Kemi knew she had been crying all day if not all night. “Ki lon damu e? (What worries you?)” She asks.
Lola tries to hide the wet tissues in her hand “Nothing! Granny I’m fine. I just have a slight headache, that’s all” she lies.
Unfortunately, Kemi always knows when Lola is lying. “Is that why you’ll lock yourself in this stuffy room all day?”
Still lying down and not wanting to face her grandmother, Lola wished she had spent the two weeks leave in her apartment rather than being near this old woman who seems to read deep into her soul.
“Is this how to spend a leave? Locking yourself in this hot dark, room? Not eating? Not wanting to talk to anyone? Eh answer me!” Kemi demands.
Lola remains silent knowing even if she asks to be alone, this woman wouldn’t heed her wish.
“Is it still the Emeka issue? I thought you were taking it just fine.” Kemi says trying to soothe her this time.
“Today is our sixth anniversary. Tomorrow was supposed to be our wedding” Lola says fighting back tears.
Kemi couldn’t help herself, so she begins to laugh, “You are funny o! If someone hears you, they’ll think you two have been married for six years.”
Facing her grandmother this time, she let anger get a better part of her “What’s funny? I knew him for two years before we started dating. I mean I’ve spent eight years of my life loving one man. Isn’t that marriage enough? Please Ma just leave me alone, I don’t have the strength to argue.”
Seeing the hurt in the old woman’s eyes, Lola wished she had spoken more politely. So she leans closer and tries to make her understand.
“He called yesterday to wish me happy anniversary in advance. He said he’ll be travelling out of town to clear his head. Granny, I feel like my world is crumbling and it’s my entire fault. I can’t live without him.”
“At least he is trying to move on while you’re here wallowing in misery. Damilola, he is not your world, you live for God only and never for any human being” Kemi tells her grandchild. “Why did you wait till months before your wedding to talk about basic issues, like your beliefs and doctrines, after so many years of dating?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think it mattered and besides I never wanted to sound like a church freak.” Lola says wiping her tears.
“God didn’t matter in your relationship?” Kemi ask in surprise.
“Not so, Ma! We talked about God but maybe not to that extent.”
“I think you were ashamed of making your stand clear” Kemi says simply.
“Granny, I was never ashamed. Just didn’t want our dates to look like some long boring sermons. I felt we would cross the religious bridge somehow only to realize we’re Christians who believe different things about God and Christianity. I felt it would raise misunderstandings in our home. I didn’t want to end up like mom and dad.” Lola says, now exposing her major fear.
There is silence for a while, with Lola’s last sentence leaving Kemi in deep thought of how she felt when her daughter, Asade, had told her she was getting married to Tunde, Lola’s father.
Kemi draws Lola close and says calmly “Damilola, what happened to your parents is different. You need not compare your situation to theirs.”
“Kini iyato? (What’s the difference?) That my father is a Muslim while my mother is a Christian? Now, I a catholic, and Emeka is a witness? At least their separation was reasonable than this. Never thought there’ll be so many differences in Christianity. Guess I was wrong.”
Leaning back, memories of her childhood begins to play in her head. She can remember how her siblings and her were torn between the mosque and the church not to talk of the numerous quarrels their parents had just because mother wasn’t comfortable with Muslim festivals neither was father particularly fond of Christian celebrations because he always saw them as unnecessary.
“Love is sure stupid. Can’t believe I got carried away” Lola says shaking the bad memories away.
Looking straight into her eyes, Kemi says stiffly “Love is not stupid, you are!”
“Wow thanks for the compliment.” Lola says dryly
“It’s not! You truly are. Love has a functioning brain and you didn’t use it. Neither is it blind. Damilola, I think you never took religious topics seriously. If you knew this was the man you really wanted to spend the rest of your life with, then you and Emeka would have talked more about it in order to strike a balance somehow. Instead, you what did you do? Spent all these years making him the center of your life, God should have been the center of your relationship and life. Now tell me, when was the last time you went for confession?”
Lola tries to recall but can’t and knowing where her grandmother was headed, she says quickly “mom says going for confessions doesn’t wash our sins away but only sincerity of the heart”.
Kemi grows a bit angry that her daughter, Asade, had left the catholic way of life and was also dragging Lola along with her. She says stiffly “what does your mother know? That new Pentecostal church she’s attending is brainwashing her.”
Having noticed that Asade and her grandchildren no longer wear or pray with their rosaries saddens Kemi more and she manages to say “It’s really disheartening that we Christians have different doctrines and beliefs. It’s obvious we interpret the bible differently, almost as if it’s a different God in every denomination.”
“I know Ma. It’s really pitiful.” Lola says sighing
Seeing the pain her grandchild’s eyes, Kemi tries to reassure her “Darling, I know it’s hard but you’ll be fine”
“Granny it’s so hard. I’m too old to start another hard journey. I feel like I’ve lost it all. Its official, I’m going to become a nun.”
“Damilola, you are just twenty-seven, you’ve got so many years ahead of you. You! Nun? Hmm then I’ll become a pope.”
“Granny, pope ke? That’s impossible!” Lola said smiling
“My point exactly! Nun is not an option for you because you’ll run out of the convent just at the sound of Emeka’s voice.” Kemi says teasingly.
Seeing Lola smile again, Kemi feels relieved “You go have your bath; I would prepare something for you to eat”
Lola thought of declining the offer but knows it will hurt her grandmother. So she simply nods.
“Gbogbi nkan ma dara (everything will be fine)” Kemi says smiling.
“I pray so. Ose(thanks)” Lola replies
Though her grandmother leaves leaving her in high spirit, sooner than Lola knows it she continues drowning in depression again. She begins to think of the wedding that would have been the next day and how happy she would have been after the many years of waiting. The pain in her heart begins all over again “Lord how did I get ahead of you and what do I do now?” she asks aloud.
Too weak to stand up, she lies down again with so many questions in her mind, holding tightly the ring and her bible close to her chest and yet there were no answers but just a deafening silence.