On a certain November night, Tolu found out that there was someone more beautiful than anyone he knew. He stared at the way her eyes twinkled when she laughed, the way her short hair hung around her perfectly sculpted face, the way her smile illuminated the darkest corners of his heart, the way her walk graced the walkway, the way her words lasted in his memory, and he knew. Yes, she was more beautiful than anybody or thing he had encountered.
To love was a pleasant feeling.
"So, you wanted to say something?" She interrupted his admiration.
"Ah yes yes. How do I say this? Um....okay. Here we go," he laughed nervously. "I really like you. I mean really really like you. I was wondering if you would like to start a relationship? That is, if you like me too."
Tolu watched disappointedly as the smile slowly fell from her face. He quickly added, "Oh! You don't need to answer now! Y-you can think about it...."
She sighed. "Let's meet at the leisure beach on Friday. Six pm."
On Friday, the beach was more luminous than Tolu had ever seen it. Colourful lights hung on tents, reflecting enchantingly on the shallow waters of the beach. Pink and red roses spotted the sand, and the air of jubilant couples, friends and family gave it life. However, it couldn't have attained such perfect ethereal beauty if a certain dark skinned girl wasn't sitting cross legged on a mat, staring out to the ocean, not minding the cold breeze that stroke her hair and body.
Tolu felt like she was the most wonderful person his eyes ever set upon and he gladly told her so.
"Please, will you be mine? I can hardly push the thought of you side. You're all I can think of."
"Let's meet here again tomorrow. By seven."
The next day, the beach was even more mesmerising than the previous day. Seashells were arranged on the sand to form a heart shape, and in the midst of each heart was a decorative lantern. Ashes from bon fires swept through the air like magic dust. Youths clapped and sang. Couples strolled. Adults carried on wise conversations.
Tolu and his love were seated near the sleeping sea whose waves occasionally washed their feet. Indeed, it looked as if she had done something to improve her beauty, or maybe it was him becoming more vulnerable.
Unlike yesterday, she was melancholy. She had said nothing at all since the start of the evening. Tolu thought she had probably made up her mind about him and was thinking of how to deliver the sad news.
"Have you thought about what I asked you? Before you say anything, please know that I really care about you."
When she looked at him, Tolu was surprised to see tears on her face.
"Why are you crying?! What's wrong? Did I do anything wrong?"
"Scared?" Tolu exclaimed. "Why are you scared?"
She only shook her head, shut her eyes and let the tears flow.
He held her hands and touched her face. "Are you scared I'm going to break your heart?"
She opened her water-coloured eyes, and they mirrored a kind of pain Tolu had never seen.
"No," she responded. "I'm scared I'm going to break yours."
Tolu was confused. "'Why would you be scared of that? If you love me, you're not going to hurt me."
"Are you really certain of that, Tolu?"
The way she asked the question made Tolu silent.
She gazed forward, dipped her hands into the coming wave, and began;
"I used to be a teacher in a private primary school. The pay was big for a job that wasn't too demanding. However, I hated it. Repeating a lesson over and over again because half of the class just didn't get it, answering questions that didn't make sense most of the time, apologising to a child that has been wronged by her mate. Teacher this, teacher that. I could literally count the days I didn't have headache. I didn't spend much time at work. In by seven, out by three but even that little time was like a lifetime of horrors. There were some nights I even cried. I used to tell my mother if I had a better job, my life would be happier.
"She said it was because I didn't have enough friends. I was always alone. I liked being alone. Not that I didn't have any friends, I did. There was Susan, a lovely girl with whom I instantly bonded in my first day of secondary school. Many people thought I was a pushover because I only hung out with Susan who had a lot of friends, but she was the only person I really liked. Unfortunately, like most friendships, this one had an end. We were supposed to keep in touch after secondary school and we did at first but later we hardly spoke and it was almost as if she didn't even exist. Then I met Steven in the University. He was a little bit strange and we were very close even till graduation but he stopped talking to me when he asked me out and I turned him down. I just didn't see him that way.
"After Steven, my life went into a state of depression. I wanted to have a friend but I just couldn't bring myself to let someone in again for fear that it would end up like the last two did. So, there I was, doing a job I hated, living a life I hated, and hating myself for living a life I hated. It was so twisted. I remember the way my colleagues in school used to sneer at me. They thought I was pompous and thought so highly of myself that I couldn't relate with them. They didn't know I just didn't know how and maybe I didn't want to know how. Maybe I just wanted to be alone. But a lesson I later learnt was that no one really wants to be alone, not even a loner.
"Then there was the day my life changed. You know the saying 'you meet someone and your life never remains the same again?' Well, this was the case. It was a cold morning. Rain had fallen heavily the previous night and the wind was testifying to it. I was late for work because of the jammed road. When I got to school, the principal informed me that there was a new girl in our class and the parent would like to meet the teacher. Apparently, she wanted to know if I could take the young girl extra lessons after school everyday. The idea was horrifying. Not only would I have to endure eight hours of torture, I was going to have to endure another hour and a half. I was about to turn it down when I remembered that I badly needed a new place. The one I was staying in had run down and the expenses required to keep it running was getting too much. I had complained to the landlord but he had rudely told me to get another house if I didn't like this one. I was outraged and immediately thought of moving out but the money in my bank account wouldn't allow an evacuation. I needed the money. So, I accepted the offer with cheerful facade. She told me she would like for me to start that day, just to see how well I could 'flow' with the child.
"Her house was a mansion. I remember gazing at the interior with such a dumbfounded expression on my face. I was in the living room waiting for the child to finish her meal which she was eating rather slowly. The madam had said, 'a child cannot learn properly on an empty stomach'. While she ate and watched Spongebob - I wondered if she knew the TV would make the child eat slowly - I awed at the antique around me until someone spoke.
"Do you want one? I could buy you one someday."
I was taken aback by the young man that uttered those words. Don't misunderstand me, he wasn't that handsome. He was a fine man, if anything, but his looks were not dashing enough to make anyone stand still. I was rather shocked by his audacity to intrude on a person's thought like that. Even though he felt like I liked the house, he shouldn't have embarrassed me by saying something like that. So, I said the first thing that came to my mind.
"No thanks. Why don't you get yourself one first?" I felt a moment later that that was a stupid retort.
He didn't laugh. I thought he was arrogant. He sat down beside me and said, "What's your name?"
"None of your concern."
I didn't like it, the way he was staying close to me, talking to me like he was actually interested in talking to me.
"Well, your name is really long but I'm going to keep it as nun. Don't look at me like that. You don't expect me to be calling your full name all the time, do you?"
"And who are you?"
"I'm that little girl's uncle. You can call me Dewon."
"Yes, De won that's meant for you."
He winked and I stared. I wasn't used to someone speaking to me in such a manner.
"I have a feeling we'll be close."
"And we turned out as he predicted. I won't bore you with the details of how we moved from being strangers to a smitten couple. All I'll say is he was the brightest thing that ever crossed my path, and why I fell in love with him is because he was able to bring out the heart in me; things I never thought I could feel. I was happy, free, at peace. I smiled more often. Even my colleagues wondered what had happened to me. I was simply in love. But the big fight came. It was our first and unluckily, our last.
"Dewon had gotten a promotion which made him much more busier than usual. He hardly picked up his calls and the time we spent together gradually reduced till I only saw him a few times in a month. I became jealous. I complained about it and accused him of cheating but he would assure me that he still loved me. He was only finding it difficult to balance his new job and his personal life. He said he was under pressure. I could have tried to understand. Maybe this wasn't about me. Maybe he was telling the truth. But I didn't believe it. I nagged and complained. Truth is, I was scared that he would leave me so I started reacting. I thought of all the worst scenarios. Perhaps, he had found someone else and didn't like me anymore. How can he be too busy for me? Is he getting tired? Or maybe he didn't think I was a proper fit for the girlfriend of a newly promoted manager? So, to avoid the heart break that I thought was going to come, I called him to our favourite spot. I can never forget that day. We sat beside the ocean and gazed at the stars like we usually do. He was beautiful, sitting there like that. I didn't care that his nose was a little too big or that people thought he was too black. To me, he was the most beautiful man I had ever known, and for a moment, I almost changed my mind.
"He held my hand and stared at me with a sadness that reflected in his eyes, as if he knew what was coming. I kept my face straight, determined he was not going to fool me. He asked what was wrong and I told him. He said, "Nun, you know that I would never lie to you. No one can take your place. I'm sorry I've not been available but you know, with my new position, I'm trying to cope. The truth is I'm so frustrated, I don't know what-
"Don't tell me that," I stopped him.
"It was something I later regretted. When I look back, I realise he was only asking for my help. I didn't see that. All I saw was me. My feelings. My emotions. My anger. My hurt. I told him he was a liar and that I wanted to end the relationship. He broke down, held my legs and begged me not to leave. He promised me he would be more available, that he would call me everyday if that's what I wanted. I refused to be moved. I left him crying on the beach but I also left my heart bleeding. From thereon, I was miserable. He called, sent hundreds of texts but I never responded. I still loved him but I made myself believe it was for the best. I know now that I was only consumed by fear. I was so scared of someone breaking my heart that I broke it myself, thinking it would hurt less. I broke my own heart.
"It took Dewon months to stop calling me and I was even more miserable. This time, I was worse than before. I wished that I never broke up with him. It suddenly dawned on me that I never wanted him to go away. I started thinking over everything, how I could have been more thoughtful. Maybe I made the wrong decision. I started to realise that I knew all along that Dewon was honest. I had believed since I met him that I was only lucky to date him because someone like him couldn't possibly love someone like me. The truth was my insecurities were what forced me out of the relationship.
"One morning, on the way to school, I was surprised to see Dewon at the gate. He hadn't changed much but I noticed he was looking thinner and his eyes were baggy. He asked me why I didn't respond to his calls and why I told the gateman not to open the door for him. I didn't respond. My heart was beating so loudly I feared Dewon would hear. He said he just wanted to know how I was doing, and wondered if we could just be friends. I foolishly said, 'my boyfriend wouldn't like that.'
"I had never seen him so downcast. "You've moved on already?" His guard broke. I saw it and I couldn't stop my heart from breaking too. I didn't know why I was doing what I was doing. I said the opposite of what I meant and watched him walk away. All I wanted was for him to come back but that fear, that horrible fear, kept me still.
"The next time I heard about him, my heart split into two. If it was that he got married, perhaps I wouldn't have felt like going seven feet underground and staying there. It was something a lot worse. Remember the infamous crash of '17? The whole country was in a tantrum because so many people had died. I was following the news in the morning paper when my eyes came across a name I thought I wouldn't hear of again. It was him. He was one of the victims. I fell on my knees and shed the most broken tears that could ever come from a human being. He wasn't dead but his legs were broken. It turned out he was on the train because his company had sent him to represent them in Abuja. But he never made it to the meeting. Somehow, I felt it was my fault. I wept for days on end and visited the hospital so many times but never went into his ward.
"He was eventually dismissed and I stalked him for some time. A lady was always pushing his wheel chair. Whether she was an hire, a relative, or his girlfriend, I couldn't tell neither did I care. My emotions almost drove me crazy. I felt so broken, so idiotic, so guilty. I resigned from my job and had to take sleeping pills for my insomnia. I think that was when I knew what it meant to be heartbroken. The other things I had previously felt were just a joke.
"I finally decided I was going to see him. Maybe his anger towards me would help a little. It was crazy but I believed I was in need for punishment. I went to the park where he went to on weekends, a place that held memories of loving and laughing under golden sunsets. The lady was nowhere to be found but he was in the wheel chair. He was staring out, deep in thought. I took a bold step. I thought he would wheel himself away the moment he saw me but he gazed like one that had just found a missing friend. What he said next killed me, "I've missed you Nun, I've really missed you."
"He didn't have to say it. I knew he still loved me. I covered my face and choked on my tears. Guess what I did? I ran away. I couldn't understand it nor could I take it. How could he still care for me after all what I did to him? After all the rejection? I knew then that all this time, I was not the only one with the broken heart. All I was seeing was me. If I had only stopped to care for his heart just as much as I cared for mine, things would have ended up differently. I had let my insecurities come in like a shark and eat what could have been the most beautiful days of my life.
"So, I went to our favorite spot, this beach, and wrote him a long letter. I wrote everything from the beginning; how I fell in love with him, what made me do what I did, how terribly selfish I was, and how sorry I was about his leg. I apologised that I wasn't there for him. I told him how I still loved him and that I hoped he found someone better because I didn't deserve him. I also included that I might be making another mistake by leaving the state but I felt it was the sensible thing to do. I didn't see myself worthy of such honest love."
"You asked why I'm so scared I'll break your heart?"
Tolu felt his heart aching. He knew the end was coming. He didn't want her to go.
"This is what I said to Dewon. The post script:
'As I write this sitting on our favourite beach with deserved tears staining my cheek, it occurs to me how selfish we are. We only think of ourselves; 'What if she breaks my heart?' 'So many people have hurt me.' 'So many have offended me'. 'I need to push bad people out of my way'. 'I need to let go of toxic friends.' Have we ever stopped and wondered, what if I'm hurting him? What if someone is suffering because of what I said or did? What if I'm the bad friend? Have we wondered if we're the cause of someone's bitterness? Maybe we're the reason why someone is in pain? Maybe we're the ones that need to learn how to love? Have we ever wondered, that maybe, just maybe, we're the villain? I wish I knew earlier that there's no fear in love, Tolu. I would have loved you better."
Tolu's eyes grew misty as he watched her pretty sorrowful eyes, sullen cheeks and frame that bore the scars of a soul that had seriously suffered, fade into the nothingness of happily never after.
He could almost smell her as though she was sitting right there by his side.
It was painful not to have an inkling of where she could have gone.
Someone tapped his shoulder. It was a teenage boy. "Sir, you've been sitting here all alone. Mummy over there said I should invite you to our little get together."
Tolu smiled and wiped his tears away.
"I would love to. Please help me
The boy helped Tolu up and handed him his clutches.
He bent down to pick something up from the sand. "Here sir, this dropped from your hand."
Tolu collected the perfumed letter, the contents of which he had run away from many days on this beach, and smiled. "Thank you."
He leapt away with the boy, determining in his heart to find and love her, if she would let him. There was no other way.
Esther Taiwo Soyelu-Aro is a 200 level student of Mass Communication in the Lagos State University. A creative writing junkie, she runs an instagram account where she shares her works of poetry and short stories, including a recent collection of poems, 'Firefly' published solely on Wattpad.
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