Short Story: Love Is A Risk! (1) – By Manasseh Azure Awuni

It’s been twenty years now. But I still remember it vividly. As vividly as the night I broke my virginity. My dignity.

It was at the Central Cafeteria one cloudy Sunday afternoon. I had gone there to swallow a few spoonfuls of plain rice and perhaps wash it down with a bottle of soft drink. And that was where and when I saw her for the first time. The cafeteria was uncharacteristically empty; the semester was withering and the “wahala week” that preceded vacation turned every student, except a few “Dadabiis”, into an economist. That perhaps partly explained why the CC, which was usually fizzing with activities, was so empty.

I had barely finished placing an order when she entered and occupied another empty table.  Hers was three tables away from mine and I could have joined her, but that also meant that I do what was gentlemanly. Unfortunately, however, I had very limited cash and could not afford to pay for what she would order. So I sat where I sat, cursing myself for not being prepared enough to utilize the rarest opportunity that ever came my way.

Soon, we were both at our meals. I had to display exaggerated table mannerisms in case she looked my direction. I wanted her to know that she had my attention but that ought to be professional. We ate in silence.

Outside the cafeteria, dark, sinister clouds were gathering. They were scudding hurriedly towards the back of Balme Library as if they had an emergency meeting there to attend. I hadn’t got much to do that day and so whether there was rain or no rain I didn’t care. All I badly needed was that God should answer my prayer. There would never be a better opportunity for me to interact with that Princess of Beauty than the two of us being trapped inside the almost empty cafeteria by the rain. And who says God doesn’t answer silent prayers? At least I remembered that no sound parted Hannah’s lips at Shiloh, but God heard her and gave her Samuel. On this day, too, God heard me pray in my heart and opened the flood gates of heaven. It rained elephants and hippos, for cats and dogs are too tiny to fit the description of the heavy torrent that poured as if God had emptied all water reservoirs in heaven.

After the meal I waited patiently till the waiter had come for what each of us owed before I moved over to her table a few minutes later. It was clear the rain was not stopping any moment soon and I could not be said to be an intruder, for she alone sat, starring thoughtfully and vacantly at the far end of the cafeteria.

She welcomed me with a genial smile and introductions proceeded. The usual fumbling and unrehearsed silly comments from my side followed. I had to reflect on activities of the day later in the night to realize how unsolicited words and unguarded comments had escaped from my quavering lips. But was I to blame? Show me a person in love and let me tell you who the world’s stupidest fool is. I got steadier as the conversation progressed. We discussed every available subject under the sun, except the real reason for me wanting to be so close to her – love.

Dulcie, for that was her name, was a lady to behold. Her kind of beauty defies description. Perhaps, King Solomon’s Songs of Songs can attempt a description. It is, in fact, an understatement to say that she was beautiful. This imposing beauty, together with her learned contributions to our discussion, made her presence pleasantly intimidating. I greatly admire beautiful ladies. But brainy ladies, I worship. And Dulcie possessed a rare combination of both qualities.

At the end of the day I managed to strike an acquaintance with her and went home with what was later to become the most important phone number I had received. A lot went on, innumerable calls and text messages flew towards her and a few to me. We grew more and more intimate and I had to act fast upon learning that she was single and unattached. Wait for a roasted meat to cool before you eat it and it will cool in someone else’s mouth. And that was beginning of the story.

She proposed the Central Cafeteria when I said I wanted to have a word with her. On the said date, I was there thirty minutes earlier to have my last rehearsal. Thought after thought came rushing through my turbid mind when it was time and she showed no sign of coming. She neither called to say she was caught up in traffic nor gave any form of excuse to show that she took our assignation serious. I deliberately refused to call in order to mask my restlessness. It was fifteen minutes late and she still did not show up. Ke! Ke! Ke! Ke!, ticked the seconds hand of the clock that hung at the corner of the cafeteria where I anxiously pitched camp. It travelled as if it was being pursued. Thirty minutes was gone, and there still there was no clue whatsoever. Then I began to sweat profusely, like the bottle of chilled soft drink I was sipping with exaggerated mannerisms. Why don’t you call to find out why she is neither here nor called to give any excuse? This thought occurred to me and I obliged. But to my greatest shock, a male voice answered the call.

“Do you want to speak to Dulcie?” the voice asked after I had identified myself.

“Yyy..yes!” I stammered, my heart tingling as if it had been caught with a hook, at which my tormentor was pulling hard. If you are in love with a lady, any male around her is a potential threat, a real enemy.

“I’m sorry she cannot speak to you now. She may explain later. Good day!” the voice said and hung up.

“Jesus, help me!” I heard myself say and for a moment, my mind went blank. I heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing. When I later gained consciousness and decided to cool down my aching heart with a sip of the soft drink, it tasted bitter.

Why should she do this to me? What did she take me for? Why did she not at least call to cancel the appointment if she wouldn’t be able to honour it? But had she not told me she was single? Who was that idiotic son of a bitch who rudely said she could not speak to me?

There was no answer to any of the questions and the more I thought about it, the deeper I got hurt. I had no option but to leave. But before I left, I called again, just in case luck would smile at me.

“I’ve told you she cannot speak to you at the moment, haven’t I?” the same voice asked, this time a little impatient. “You may call later in the day,” the voice said when I my side of the line went dead. I was too shocked and embarrassed to utter a word.  Silently, in my heart, I cursed whoever was on the other side of the world, where my and treasure and heart lay. The Bible is right after all. “Where your treasure is, there your heart is.”

I had no option but to dejectedly retrace my steps home with terribly bruised pride and a deflated ego. I had visited the best barber I knew and had donned my best outfit, all in an attempt to impress. The events of the day however made me wish I had never met her at all.

But in the evening, she surprised me with a call. The humiliation, disappointment and contempt that conspired to well up anger in me quickly caved in when I saw her name. With trembling hands, a palpitating heart and a foggy mind, I answered the call.

“I’m sorry I could not make it,” she apologized before I had time to remind her I had gone to wait. “I don’t think I can explain it to you on phone. If you wouldn’t mind, let’s meet tomorrow after church, same venue. Will that be fine with you?”

“It surely will. I will be there,” I readily agreed and she called it a night. My hope was rekindled but events of the day gave me much to think about. Why would a male pick her call? Who authorized him? And where were they? What was it that she could not explain on phone? Trying to find an answer to any of these questions sent my head throbbing like a set of Fontonfrom drums paying homage to Otumfuo at a grand durbar. The night was longer than a century and I woke up many times, but on each occasion I found the hands of the clock where they had been the last time I looked at the clock.

The following day I went to church and sat through the service, but I heard nothing. The unusually long sermon was irritating and I bowed out when the presiding minister announced after the sermon that there was going to be the Lord’s Supper. It was fast approaching time and though I needed the hand of the Lord in my adventure, I could not afford to be late.

After exchanging formalities, I told Dulcie everything I thought about her and how I intended to spend the rest of my life with her if she gave me the chance.

“These days it’s extremely difficult to trust someone with your love, but give me a chance and I’ll never disappoint you, Dulcie,” I concluded. Then silence reigned for a few seconds.

It outlasted eternity. When I stole a glance at her, she wore neither a smile nor a frown. Her face was clueless.  “I’m waiting, Dulcie,” I urged. “Tell me your mind. Just anything.”

“Before I say anything, I want you to take an oath,” she said after a deep sigh that made my heart miss a beat. I doubt if women know the power they wield over men when it comes to love. It is a kind of subduing power that is potent enough to melt the stony heart of the devil himself. If they knew, I’m sure those who give themselves away to be used and dumped would think and rethink.

“What I’m about to tell you is very personal and you must vow that it will forever remain a secret between the two of us,” she said with a kind of determination that showed that she meant every letter of every word she spoke.

“You know as a Christian, the Bible warns us never to vow but I don’t think I will ever tell anybody whatever it is that you‘re about to tell me. May all the curses in Deuteronomy Chapter 28 come upon me if I ever mention it to any third party. Trust me, Dulcie.” I swore before I knew what I was doing. Love is intoxicating. In fact, the difference between a person in seriously in love and a mad person is thinner than the edge of a circumcision blade.

“Good! I have read Deuteronomy 28 before and know what is there. If you cannot tame your tongue in attempt to disgrace me, it will be between you and your God,” she said with a wicked smile. “Have you ever asked yourself why a lady like me should still be single?” she asked me.

“Frankly speaking it has crossed my mind but I’ve never given it is a serious consideration,” I lied. I had actually doubted her genuineness or otherwise. A lady of her caliber should not, under normal circumstances, be single.

“Hmm!” she sighed. “It’s a long story but I’ll keep it short. Not that I’m boasting, but I’m aware of my imposing looks, which naturally draw men to me. But I have a very repulsive disorder that has made it impossible for me to enter into any relationship for long. All the men I’ve dated could not stand it at one point or the other and that’s why I’m still single. In fact, I’m now fed up with men but I have known you for some time now and liked you. I however, think I must tell you from the very beginning and allow you to either accept or reject me for who I am.”

I sighed, more confused than ever.

“I’m epileptic!” she dropped the bombshell at last. I contorted my face in shock, for I could not mask it. But she ignored me and went ahead. “It is a very acute type and all attempts to find a cure have been equally very elusive. I must say there is no hospital or specialist I have not visited, both home and abroad. I have also visited all the miracle-working prayer camps and all the top Men of God in Africa, Europe and America. I have told my father that enough is enough. I’m now tired of probing the globe in search of a non-existent cure.

“This is the reason you still find me single. I suffered one of my worst convulsions yesterday at the time you called. My younger brother was the one who picked your call. I’m sorry I disappointed you but there was nothing I could do. If you still love me and can cope with it, I’m ready to give you my heart. But if you will back out like many others have done, please kindly allow me to bear my burden alone. I’m now tired of being used and dumped.”

I sat still, confused and speechless. “I’ll give you a week to think about it,” she ended and looked quizzically at me as I fought in vain to mask the feeling of great disappointment written on my face.

Epileptic? Convulsion? No! The frog likes water but not when it is boiling. This was my immediate reaction. That came from my mind. But what would the heart say?

“Lest I forget,” she went on before I recovered to say anything. “I’ve learnt a great lesson from men in the past. Even if you make up your mind that we should go ahead, there will not be sex until the after the wedding. I have been used, dumped and humiliated by too many men,” she was becoming very emotional and her voice was choking. “They have taken advantage of my vulnerability. So for God’s sake I’m prepared to die single than to allow myself to be used and dumped again,” she said with tears filming her eyes. It was followed by sobbing.

I consoled her though I needed consolation myself. I had not bargained for this. It was beyond my wildest imagination.

I left the Central Cafeteria that Sunday afternoon feeling as if I was on a different planet. After telling the taxi driver where I was going, I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to go blank. I could not think. Or rather, I thought, but not with my mind. My heart, heavy with grief, did the thinking. I couldn’t believe that what was happening around me wasn’t a dream. I thought it was one those terrible dreams that one had and usually woke up to thank God for it not being true. But in my case, I had nothing to thank God for; everything was live and coloured as we said in those days when coloured television was still a luxury.

Acute epilepsy? Dulcie? Why? Why her? How could nature be so wicked? What crime had she committed? After undressing, I lay in bed, exhausted from a conspiracy between the previous night’s vigil and the day’s inexpressible grief and shock. I still refused to think. I focused my attention on nature’s wickedness. But for how long can man allow his mind to go blank? How possible is it? Even if it was, then not my case.

The first time I saw someone suffering from epilepsy was in my primary school days. The girl who sat next to me in the class one day fell when she was asked to stand up and answer a Mathematics question. As ignorant as we were about her health condition, we burst into laughter. It was a class of real naughty boys and girls and we never missed the opportunity to make fun of anybody who made the least mistake. Even we didn’t spare the teachers. I remember we once subjected our English Language teacher to such a behavior when she slipped and fell one rainy Monday morning. But we had to pay dearly for it, for each member of the class received liberal lashes. But it didn’t take many days to forget that it was a bad habit to laugh at others, at least not at our own colleagues.

But this morning, our laughter was short-lived. The girl could not stand up and lay struggling on the floor, with her mouth foaming all over. I nearly fainted with fear when I got to the entrance of the classroom and realized that it was  survival of the fittest sort of thing, and those of us not who were not strong enough would have to wait for the stronger boys and girls to escape first. The girl had made a complete mess of herself when I turned to look at her again. It took the headmaster and some members of staff to explain to us that the girl was epileptic and that it wasn’t contagious. But there was no class that day.

I was traumatised and I could not get over it especially when the girl started school the following week. I started giving excuse after excuse why I would not go to school, and when it became so clear that none of the excuses I gave was genuine, I confessed to my father. I told him there was no way I could concentrate with that girl still in class. My father sent me see a psychologist who did all he could but it was to no avail. Finally, I left that school for another but I could not get over that childhood trauma. So when Dulcie mentioned it, I remembered my childhood trauma with encyclopedic detail.

Thank God she didn’t demand an answer from me that very moment. A week was enough to decide at least, what to say when I met her again. It was actually on the third day I gave a serious thought to whether I could accept her proposal or not. The tables had turned and I had the arduous task of deciding whether to be in a relationship with her or not. It was an unpleasant task. And it was an arduous task as I was deciding to decide my fate.  And, perhaps, her fate too. Our fate!

A terrible decision is made. And the consequence is unpredictable.

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