This is a first.
Why did it take me so long to read this book?
I didn't want to read another book recommended by friends and feel that familiar twinge of disappointment. That "must be nice" feeling. The constancy of my other-ness.
I've never felt hugged by a book; I am embraced by the words on a page as though the book was written to tell me: your experiences too are valid. You too are valid. I felt heard; how do you feel "heard" by an author or a book? I felt understood by those who read the book as well. I felt like my experience was loved by those who loved the book.
I remember my Obinze. Some of you probably know him lol. I had a huge crush on him when I was 12... He clearly noticed me as well but we were in Nigeria, and girls in my family did not date. Ever. I received my first love letter from him a few weeks before I left Nigeria. He wrote "I love you" using an alpha-numeric code that I had to decipher - such a nerd! I don't even remember if I gave him a hug before I moved to America.
We wrote letters and called each other for a bit after I left, but then it all fizzled after I settled into my new life in America.
Many years later, he calls me out of the blue and we start talking again. It feels like I'm just hitting puberty again. My stomach is in knots every time he calls. I'm covered in goosebumps when I hear his voice as he says my name "Jumoke". I feel like he gets me. He tells me he's no longer living in Nigeria. He's since relocated to England, and he's in graduate school. He seems to be doing well. He talks about his dad's business and how he's planning to work for the family after graduate school.
He is the same boy that I left behind in Nigeria.
He still likes me. He still likes me a lot. He says he never stopped liking me.
We talk about marriage (yup), kids, family. We catch up with the mature versions of ourselves. He is so excited to speak with me. He can't wait to tell everyone that he's back in touch with me.
He never stopped thinking about me.
He complains about my awful Yoruba and laughs. He says I haven't changed.
A few weeks after we reconnect, he tells me he's coming to New York on family vacation. I'm stunned. I'm living in Maryland, but he'll be so close!
"Maybe I can come to Maryland for a few days, and we can hang out?" I say nothing. I'm trying to figure out what he means. "Hello? Did you hear me?", he says in his British accent. I blurt out, "I'm so excited! I can't believe this is happening."
We spend the next few weeks working out the logistics of his trip. He can't stay with me since I live at home with mom. He stays with another friend that I also knew in Nigeria. He walks me to my car and as we're talking, he kisses me. I had dreamed about this moment for years, and it was now happening. I was confused and exhilarated at the same time. We pause and both laugh from embarrassment and excitement. "I can't believe you---" He kisses me again and puts his hand on the small of my back to draw me in to the kiss. I'm quivering and I know I still love this boy.
For the first few days we are inseparable. Things we couldn't do in Nigeria: hold hands, cuddle, kiss, we did when he visited. We would walk around the mall and he would reach out for me if I wasn't holding his hand. Again we discussed marriage and having a family. He's Muslim, and he wants his children to be raised Muslim but he isn't picky about his wife's religion. He wants to live in the U.K. and asks if I'd be willing to relocate. He says I must visit him very soon so he can introduce me to his friends and family.
On the fourth day, he suddenly disconnects. He completely checks out and doesn't seem to want to spend any time with me anymore during this trip.
I call him more than once and he indicates that he is busy. He's doing his own thing.
I am ashamed.
I let him in too early, but I figured he just needed his space. Remember, I didn't ask for any of these things that he suggested. I didn't ask to talk about marriage, family, or a life together. He offered.
I give him space.
I stop calling him.
After a week goes by, I return to my normal routine and stop thinking about him. As I'm leaving dinner with my girlfriends, I see his name flashing on my phone. He's calling me from his phone number in England. He apologizes for checking out and says he returned to England a few days ago and misses me. I pretend to be unbothered but I'm seething. (I don't take too kindly to being pushed aside.) I ask him how he's doing and casually suggest that I may be visiting London soon. "I don't know how my girlfriend will feel about that," he says casually.
My heart drops.
My heart stops.
"What?" I respond. Trying to disguise my anger. He's laughing as he says "I just don't know how I'll tell my girlfriend that you are visiting." I feel betrayed and confused.
"Did I miss something? You have a girlfriend?"
"I do," he says.
I hang up and immediately delete his number.