BECAUSE YOU LEFT ME
– Correspondences of Failed Love
As you go through life you see
There is so much that we don’t understand
The only thing we know
Is that things don’t always go the way we plan
– Angelique Kidjo, We are one (Lion King theme)
I am lying down in my bed, drenched in my tears for weeping because of you. Since you left, my life has been full of intermittent shedding of tears. Hopes have at times flickered in my soul, but dying immediately, because I know that I have lost you forever. I have no faith left; but how can I convince myself that faith is worth the having when you, my spiritual guide, have left me? How can I see down the tunnel of life when you, my light, have been blown out? At moments like this, when sanity threatens to desert me, I think of you. And I try to remember and dwell on the exultation of days gone by, days of our togetherness.
Today, the memory of you is not so clear in my mind, because my eyes are wet with tears.
As you read this, let the tears flow from your eyes, do not restrain them. Weep blood if you must, because we have lost more than blood: we have lost love. I wish you can see me now. I am not crying. My heart is already inured.
And now dear Naomi, let me tell you things you know. Eat if you have not; rest your head on a pillow if you must; shut the door to prying eyes and meddlesome watchers – you shall tremble of things I am about to tell you. But it does not matter: the truth doesn’t kill; it only hurts.
You know the beginning of my sorrow, our sorrow. It was that day when, going through your phone, I saw the lethal message from ‘Bro Emeka’: I am hoping in you for marriage, Nne. You remember, don’t you? You laughed at me when I showed it to you, and you said to me, as if I was just a child frightened for nothing: ‘Can’t people send me whatever message they want? It is not my fault, is it? After all, you know it is you and I together forever.’
Do you know what I said to myself when I read the message, even before showing it to you? I said: Naomi has slipped from my hand. She is no more mine. Never was my soul more prophetic, and never was the fulfilment of an evil prophecy so much in the offing as that prophecy of mine! I had taken you out on a walk that night, remember? The grasses by the wayside were wet with the dews of the night. We could not see each other’s faces – but I have never complained of darkness in your presence; in fact, I sometimes think that you look lovelier to me in darkness. I was holding you by the hand, but your hand was not calm as it was wont to be. I felt your nervousness in my grips and I wondered. I did not understand then; now I do, and I will tell you.
I drew you closer to me; you submitted to my hold as usual, but when I wanted to kiss you, you drew your head back. All my life, women have been a big puzzle to me because I don’t understand them. Not so with you. I understand you, maybe because you are not just a woman to me but a second part of me. That moment when you moved your head, however, I did not understand you. Why would you refuse my kiss, you who before then were telling me how much you wanted it, you who were sending me erotic messages of affection, praying for an opportunity to have a kiss? As I released my hold of you, I felt your coldness more than humiliating.
You were not happy – I felt it, I saw it. Your smiles were weak attempts at suppressing the tears which the darkness had effectively hidden from my view. I knew then that the end had come. I knew then that a wall had been erected between us and that we were due to be parted irredeemably. I hoped no more.
You walked me through the dazzling gate of the Daluwon Assembly ground, where several voices were laughing sonorously at one another. We were the only silent ones. I could not even hold you by the hand anymore because your coldness repulsed me. You remember that I used to tell you that I am a pretender? Well, maybe I should tell you that you are a pretender also, for as we passed through the crowd, your face was set in smile, rigid, unflinching smile, like the smile of a statue. Only I was aware of its un-genuineness. When you touched my hand in the old way, I felt a ray of hope seep into me. Maybe I had been dreaming! Maybe you were not alienated from me after all! You said, ‘There is something I must tell you Joshua.’
I followed your leading steps. I surrendered for you to lead me wherever you would, to tell me whatever you would – your voice alone, I hoped, would do my body the magic of regeneration. Eyes trailed our steps, hands pointed our silhouette, gossiping mouths whispered behind us.
We stopped and you looked me in the face. You could not feign happiness any more. I saw in your eyes the redness of stifled tears. I saw the sorrows of many days in your worn and wan face. I felt your agitation in the vibration of your hand on mine. I remember that moment very well. You were so frail and helpless and hopeless that I felt like raking you into my embrace to comfort you, but that resolute disapproval from your eyes told me I was not wanted. We had come to the end of the road.
‘I am sorry Joshua. This relationship is over.’
The trumpet of doom was not so lethal to Satan’s ear as your message was in mine. It was a message heralding a period of empty existence for me.
‘Naomi – ’ I opened my protestant mouth, clutching at straws.
‘No, Joshua. I am sorry.’
That night was a night of memories. I sat in the cold seat of the auditorium and felt the bitter coldness of the night seeping into my flesh as if I was being lacerated with a surgeon’s lancet. I remember now: you felt the approaching coldness before parting from me, for you gave me your jacket to keep me warm. I am not sure any more. Was the night cold because of the weather or because of our parting? The stars came out later in the night, and the moon also, albeit far away and shrouded in the misty clouds. How could I see their pulchritude in my bitter soul? My eyes, when I raised them upward, were not for the stars or the moon: they were for God, to ask of him: Why did you allow this to come to me? That day I spoke blasphemy. I spoke the unspeakable. God, you have disappointed me.
How do I begin to enunciate my emotion at that moment? How do I tell you what went on in my mind when you left, and the darkness swallowed your hazy shadow in the distance, and you did not even look back to wave at me? Maybe you did not want to see my tears. Maybe you did not want to be there when I would faint. Maybe you did not want to be there when your poisoned message would stifle my breath. You refused to look back at your victim.
Hope, hope alone helped me maintain my sanity. Even in that final moment, when our fall was apparent to every looking eye, I kept thinking that you would turn back and say it was not over yet, that you were not leaving me, that I had only imagined our break-up.
Minutes passed, hours passed, yet you did not come back. It was a concluded case against which, sadly, there seemed to be no appeal left.
Let me tell you what happened that night, Naomi. Remember, it was a night of memories, a night of rapid remembrances. Where do I begin? What shall I tell and what shall I leave out? I remember now how the memories came to me: they came from the most pleasant. Maybe that was nature’s trick to keep me from going insane. I did not only remember but I also saw things as they had happened, through eyes that have grown prophetic in their suffering.
I saw that glorious day when we held hands together and walked on the young grasses of the Assembly Ground. Your hand was not soft, but in my palm, I felt its burning pleasure – need I confess that yours is the one female palm which has so moved me? The gentle breeze was blowing on your skirt and scattering your un-plaited hair in every direction. You were laughing and giggling, like a baby cackling at the pleasure of a new toy. I was your toy and you held my hand in absolute possession.
Did you look about us? I did, and I saw a thousand eyes looking in our direction, their hands pointing. I heard in my soul their unspoken criticism: see them, the two love birds. Even here, in the house of God, they cannot keep away from iniquity. In their eyes we were sinners. But what did that matter to us? We could not have cared the more if one or two angels, passing by, had caught us and were threatening to report us to God for judgment. The sin of love is an easy one to forgive, and if not, did we care?
We sat down on an empty row of seats in the auditorium. We did not even care to dust the seat. When nature touches you with its romantic hand, you don’t care what residue of her you inherit. I looked at you and you looked at me and our eyes were locked in each other’s. We felt no compulsion to remove our eyes. Love is a force which can douse the sagacity of shyness.
In your eyes I saw love, deep like the ocean of desire.
Did you see love when you looked into my eyes? I did not know. I did not ask you and you did not tell me. But surely, you heard it in my voice, when I summoned courage to speak to you.
‘Now that you have seen me Naomi, do you still love me?’
‘Yes,’ you had answered. I was wrong to have asked. Love is too noble an entity to admit of apology.
I asked again, maybe not unwisely now. ‘Do you still want to marry me?’
‘Yes, I will marry you several times!’
Never was a voice so full of pleasure as yours! Never was a mind so at ease and joyous as mine. The wide world diminished before me. I felt like the prince of the universe, holding it in my sway and commanding it with bountiful gestures. That day was a day of bliss, and I had always remembered it as I am remembering it now.
Then Naomi, in the coldness of the night, I sat down and looked into the distance where you had disappeared. I remembered several other incidences, some less sublime but no less spectacular. I remembered that day when, trembling with nervousness, we had our first kiss. My lips felt moist, as though you were kissing me afresh. But it was the cold night kissing me now.
How I longed for things gone by! How I longed for that tremulous moment of our love’s inception in the faraway village when I saw your stately approach through my visionary eyes! They are days and moments that may never be repeated again. That Saturday was a special Saturday, perhaps the only reason why I have become fond of Saturdays. I don’t remember the details of what happened, but I know that in the end, I fell in love with you.
Maybe I was a fool, for fools, they say, fall in love at first sight. Or maybe I was blind, as they also say that love is blind. But we all know that they lie. We know that love is not for the fool – or is it? Then, perhaps the world would be better if every egg that fertilizes in a woman yields a fool… If love is blind, then cecity is a blessing.
What else may I tell you of that tender night of goodbyes? What may I remind you? Need I tell you how in the bitterness of my soul I recalled your lofty promises, above which stood one: that we shall never part from each other? Not even in death – we did not then think of death. The heart which has been touched by love has no business with death. The fantasists know this.
I wore the jacket you gave me Naomi. I wore it but it did not make me warm. The coldness of the night still bit into my skin, as if I was standing naked in the Arctic. Now I understand why I was cold. It was not your jacket that I needed; it was your heart, and you had wrenched it away from me. How did I even survive the night with the constellation of memory hitting me from every direction, like spectres in a war-ridden field closing on a lone soldier? I don’t know how I survived. Maybe God’s finger touched me after all, while I lay like an errant child, shouting and cursing like a distressed Job.
Morning came after the long and painful night. Joy did not come to me in the morning – my weeping continued. I had stopped shedding tears, but the agony remained. Do you remember that I came to your apartment in the morning? Was it perhaps to see if you had changed your mind? No, Naomi. The night had healed me of all illusions. I woke up to reality. I dreamt and hoped no more. I only wanted to see you. I only wanted to access the face that would be mine no more; the face that I might not see again or might see in the company of another man. I did not come to say goodbye: our goodbye had been said in the night. I hate repeated goodbyes.
Did my heart beat when I saw you? Did the old longing overwhelm me? Surely you want to know! As long as ink remains in my pen, I will endeavour to tell you things as I remember them. My heart did not jump when I saw you that morning. I did not tremble in your sight. My mind did not revisit our days of togetherness. You wonder: was it because I did not remember that we were parted? No, I remembered vividly. My soul was thoroughly striated and the wounds were yet healing, so I could not have forgotten.
You did not seem lovely to me that morning. It seemed as if the gracefulness was stripped off you so that you looked bare. You were an ordinary girl to me that morning. There was nothing about you that attracted me. I did not feel the fire of emotion which usually engulfed me in your mere presence. Your hand when you held me was cold and stiff. I did not feel its usual warmth. I did not pulsate in the pleasure of your sensuality, because it was not there.
You ceased to exist for me.
Why could such a change have happened between us, just overnight? Or was it only I who felt the sharpness of our separation? Maybe you grew less enchanting that morning; maybe it was I who had transcended mortal feeling. But the truth is, I did not long for you that morning.
My own body’s reaction was a puzzle to me. I did not understand it then, but I do now. It was not because you were less alluring or that my feeling for you had changed overnight. It was simply another miracle of nature. My emotion towards you was suspended – otherwise how could I have survived the night with its heaviness burdening my heart?
If only my heart had ceased beating at that moment when last you were there, and I had not experienced the hereafter of your leaving…
I returned a new man. I don’t know whether people saw the change in me or not. Perhaps they did and simply didn’t want to talk about it because they did not understand me. You know that I have a predilection for being a puzzle. You alone have been able to fathom me, but how you did it I don’t know and may never know. I can only hope that you understand me again, as you have always done.
I was a hollow man. The feel of emptiness which engulfed me is beyond telling. I used to pride myself in being a master of adjective. I give it up now. I cannot summon enough of it to describe the ordeal that I went through. I cannot explain that feeling of emptiness and chasmic nothingness which overtook me. I only hope that you understand.
I was saved from desperation by miracle. Can you guess how? Preaching? Prayers? Those things would have saved you but not me. I did not pray. I did not pray because the faith which I lost was not just in you but also in God. Here, let me tell you a little truth, something which years of religiosity might not have taught you. The moment when you lose faith and belief in God, you feel an inner calm. That calmness is not the calmness of a contented soul: it is calmness born out of desperation and resignation. There is nothing left for you to dread. You assume the worse, and thereafter, nothing frightens you anymore. You are like a man who has seen the judge enter the court with red garment: you anticipate death sentence and nothing else frightens you again. For hellfire you do not care because you have seen through the deceits and have come to the conclusion that it is the creation of years of papal distortion. The truth of it has liberated you.
What was it that saved me from desperation? Children! Are you surprised? I will tell you how.
You know how exceeding my love for children is. You remember how often we talked about children and how I would take care of them for you after weaning – I emphasised after weaning because my love for children does not extend to those frail things which look as if a touch of the hand would break them. Through my love for children, God worked his miracle of salvation yet again. This was possible because the women in my congregation have a lot of fine babies, so I elected to be their ‘father’.
Love is a potent thing. You cannot suppress when you have acquired it. In my own case, I simply channelled it to the children, and they responded equally. I bought them some things, little and insignificant, but they appreciated them. Of all people on earth, children are the most grateful. I know that you may have heard otherwise – that children are the most ungrateful. I disagree. For every love (if love can be measured) that I gave to them, they gave me two back. You need to see them clustering around me, vying for my attention! You need to see them scrambling to be carried, as if my touch was magical! Those children added colour to my life. I was filled with wonder on how children showered me with love and affection.
I did not understand it then, but now I do. When your love is genuine, even strangers will notice it. I did not pretend loving those children: I sincerely love them, and they loved me back.
I have told you how I was saved from desperation through children. It was the miracle of God. Deep inside me I knew that God’s finger was in all these as a way of consoling me. Yet I was not totally healed. The emptiness you created in me when you left was too much to be replaced easily by anybody or anything.
Initially, the adults irritated me, especially the girls. They irritated me because I saw in all of them the elements of deceit. In each girl’s face that I looked, I saw someone who had jilted another. It was a bad disposition for me as a shopkeeper. It was not long before I noticed that people did not like my perpetual look of sadness. Again God intervened. I found myself cracking jokes and making petty comedies to customers. Yes Naomi, I too have the capacity to make people happy, even when deep inside me I am not happy. You know it, but people who don’t understand me think I am an absolute sadist.
Yet the vacuum remained in me. No matter how funny I tried to be, the feel of loneliness still stalked me. No matter how much I tried to forget you, you still resurfaced in my mind at the oddest hours. It even came to the point when I literally saw you in every girl with slight resemblance to you. Every one of them was your wraith, pointing mocking fingers. In my presence they would smile at me. Some of them would come into the shop and insist on sitting down with me. Their ready assertion of affection puzzled me, until I realised that I had let my subconscious believe they were you. I had shown them the same interest I would show you, and they had responded as you would have responded. They probably thought I was flirting with them. If only they knew what sorrow I was wallowing in! If only they knew what pains they were giving me!
Then I did the most stupid thing in my life – not unreasonable, just stupid. I tried to hate you. Each time I heard your name, I tried to conjure up an image of wickedness in human form. I tried to think of everything bad about you. I even thanked God for saving me from your hand. Just think of it Naomi, I was thanking God for saving me from your hand, I who could have sacrificed anything to have you back again! There is no trick too trivial for the desperate mind.
The whole experiment of attempting to hate you backfired on me. The more I tried to hate you, the more I found myself loving you. Need I tell you that the only virtue I carried with me in all these years of turbulence was coming to your defence whenever anybody said anything bad about you? Maybe that was not even virtue but mere instinct. I tried hating you but I could not. The result was that each time I saw your picture, it looked into my soul accusingly, begging to be loved. Finally I gave it up. I could not hate you; I can only love you.
The feel of absent love is worse than lack of love. I sank into despondency again. This time, I thought that I was beyond redemption. Again God saved me! I will tell you a little truth: you may give up on God but God never gives up on you. It is the truth which I was an experimental example. God came to my rescue in a way that you will laugh at.
God saved me through phone.
I wish I could see you laughing and smack you in the cheeks for laughing so loudly. You wonder how I could have been saved by phone. I will tell you. It was around that period that I got a smartphone (by the way, it is lying beside me as I write). It opened my eyes to the vista of the internet world. I discovered an e-book site where I could download a lot of classic books, for free!
You may be jealous if you wish. You know that the second thing I love as I love you is literature. So when I found a store of it, I felt as if I had been given back my lost love, only in a different shape. I downloaded them by hundreds. With an e-book reader on my phone, I could now read the books that I had long looked for but had not seen. I discovered how little I knew and I was humbled.
I read books after books, the classics and the unheard of books, all. I forgot you, totally. I forgot your existence for the first time since that Saturday in the village when you shone your magical eye on me and I was caught by it. I forgot you, although every now and then I read books with characters bearing your name and I would be forced to remembrance. I tried burying myself in novels in my moments of desperation. I was addicted to it, and like every addiction, I carried the stench of it with me and resorted to it my moments of desperation.
But the love of book could not replace the love of you. I oftentimes came across characters that so resembled you that I had to give up reading entirely to revisit our love affairs. Melancholy reclaimed me yet again. The emptiness in me became wider. You know what those novels do to you: they remind you of what you are missing. So the books reminded me of you, and the void became deeper in me.
Every man needs a woman’s love. Don’t mind the fool who, carrying his Bible like a talisman, tells you that he only loves his God and Jesus but no one else. The man loves God the least who doesn’t love his fellow man. And so it was that my desire for love resurfaced again. I tried pretending to be in love with another girl, but it was just a laughable hoax; it did not work. I could not find any girl lovable – not that they did not exist, I merely didn’t see them. Maybe it was the thought of you that prevented me from knowing others. Although you left me, I felt I was betraying you each time I gave my attention to other girls. That is how it is with all jealous guys: they too feel the bitterness of unfaithfulness in their own soul.
I was back where I started. The love of children, pretence of comedy, books – all came and left, still I remained the same pensive fellow whose love was lost. I sank deeper and deeper into melancholy. If you had seen how wretched I grew within that period; maybe you would have felt justified in leaving me.
Loneliness and emptiness resurrected the creative instinct in me. I started writing poetry, melancholic poetry of course. They were all so full of tragic tones that all the publishers rejected them without even bothering to read them! They had never known a soul with as much predilection for tragedy as mine, and they hastened to put away my manuscripts to keep it from infecting others. There is enough tragedy in the real world to bother it with tragedy in books too.
I accepted the fact that I could not write something publishable by Nigerian publishers. I have yet to tell you this: the standard of publishers in this country is the highest in the world! The manuscript they refused publication here would be lobbied for outside. They go only for the best and most refined – and the creation of my melancholic soul was not refined enough.
So, even my literary acumen did not save me. Melancholy for my failure and desperation for my loss overwhelmed me. I was not good for anything. I was not good for you. I could not write something worth publishing. My ego was greatly ruffled. It was difficult accepting that I was a failure, and when thereafter people hailed me as a multitalented young man, I laughed at them because the hypocrisy was glaring.
God came again, determined to save me. This time, he did not hide his identity. He did not save me through some obscure means; he extended his mitt down from heaven and scooped me! Miserable me, I was still suffused in my worthlessness when God opened my eyes through the Bible.
Everybody has the Bible. Many have read it. Only a few understand it. God did not give me Bible because I already had one. He only helped me to understand it. Bible passages began acquiring meanings to me, passages which hitherto held no meaning for me. I saw characters in the Bible whose lives were as miserable as mine, characters who had asked the unaskable and sought to find the unfindable. God did not shush them. God did not say to them: wicked children, knoweth thou not that thy suffering is from Satan? I read of prophets who in the middle of their holy works queried God for their failure. I saw the truth: the Bible characters were not supermen, they too suffered for their sins, like us. And yet on none of them did God give up. He carried them all in His bosom, comforting, scolding but always loving.
I too could be loved by God. I only had to think it to feel it. I was overtaken by the love of God. I felt my old self returning to me. The presence of God was so near me that sometimes I looked up the sky to see if he was looking down, smiling at me. I remembered how the little children vied for my smile. That was how I vied for God’s smile. But I never saw it. I tried in vain to be a prophet to look up into the sky and receive visions from God but I did not. I was too human to be entrusted with that duty. I knew God was there, watching, smiling. I could now look the world in the face and tell it: I don’t care what you think of me, so long as God loves me.
The face of God remained my defence until I started reading Solomon. In Proverbs I found wisdom incomparable. The wise sayings bottled up there were unlike the philosophies of Socrates (by the way, I didn’t tell you that I even delved into Philosophy when that literary fever caught me). In Ecclesiastes I found the mirror of my soul. Solomon was me, in the deepest of his melancholy. He too had sought the love of the Shulamite maiden and was disappointed. He too, like me, had resorted to melancholic writing. Read Ecclesiastes – it is the greatest of all nihilistic treatises, and it came from the heart of the man who had it all. Ecclesiastes was written for me and I allowed myself to be carried away in its tragic pages.
It taught me maturity.
I have told you how I survived our break up. I will now tell you the aspect of my life which you never shared.