Akudo Nnamani left the pointer hovering around the options listed under “Marital Status.”
Single. Married. Divorced. Widowed.
She sighed – which was an improvement because the last time she came across that section in a form, she had burst into tears.
It had been five years since her husband died, and the heaviness had only recently eased. She was convinced that the only reason she had not died from grief was because she had two little boys to raise; and she had thrown herself; mind, body, and soul into raising them.
She clung to that distraction for dear life. It was, quite frankly, the only reason she stayed sane.
Mama Jay, her mother-in-law, had been trying to convince her to come over to California on holiday with the children for the last two years.
She was finally getting around to filling the visa application form.
She sighed again, and checked the “Widowed” box.
She had run out of excuses to give Mama Jay, so procrastination was not an option.
The doorbell rang.
She looked through the peephole, then smiled as she opened the door.
“Hello Nonso.” She said, hugging him then stepping aside for him to come in.
Nonso Anidiobi was her late husband’s best friend. She met him the night before her wedding when she and her husband-to-be had hosted their entire bridal party to a pre-wedding dinner. They had hit it off immediately, and had remained good friends afterwards.
When her husband died, Nonso proved to be a true friend. He constantly called to check on her, gave her space when he knew she needed it, and helped her out with errands when he could – all with no ulterior motive. It was more than she could ask for.
“How do you get prettier each time I see you?” Nonso said, giving her a once-over.
“Akukọ! Biko stop flattering me.”
“It’s not flattery. Where are the little men?”
“They are at grandma’s oh. They are on mid-term break, so I sent them off to my mum’s so I can have some peace and quiet.”
“See this woman oh? Running from responsibilities abi?” He teased.
“I can’t run even if I wanted to. Shebi my mum kept saying she wanted grandchildren, ngwa nu, she can have the grandchildren for a short while.” She quipped, gesturing for him to sit while she walked towards the kitchen.
He laughed. “Abi oh.”
“How are Mummy and Daddy?” She shouted from the kitchen.
“They are good jare. Enjoying their retirement.”
“Allow them. They have earned it biko.”
“I know, I know.” He groaned.
She joined him on the couch, two glasses in one hand, and a bottle of wine in the other.
“Ah-ahn, what are we celebrating?”
“My small freedom.” Akudo laughed. “I should have even asked if you have time. See how I just brought wine like you had all day to spend here.”
“When have you known me to turn down wine? Nne biko pour sontin!” He mock ordered.
She laughed, and did as he asked.
“Throw in a hot meal, and I might just spend the night.” He added.
She threw her head back in laughter.
“Imagine this woman, asking me whether I am in a hurry when there is wine. Stop that rough play biko.” He finished, feigning annoyance.
“E wena iwe biko, don’t vex. It was my error. I shan’t do it again.” She pleaded jokingly.
“You are forgiven.”
She laughed, and handed him his glass of wine.
They relaxed and soon began talking about their love/hate relationship with their jobs. It was one of the things that had made them fast friends. He loved what he did but hated the structure of the company, and the dog-eat-dog nature of the work environment. She loved the people in her workplace but hated the work itself. However, leaving was not an option because she had two children to feed.
“Nonso please let’s leave this depressing topic jo. Do you want to watch something on TV?” She asked, picking up the remote control.
“Not particularly. By the way, what were you up to? Knowing you, instead of using this time away from the kids to rest, you will be busy doing one thing or another.” He said, fixing her with an accusatory stare.
“You know me too well. BUT in my defense, I was doing something that will lead to me getting some rest.”
He leaned back on the couch, took a sip from his wine. “Kowatiate. I’d like to hear this.”
“Visa application.” She said, beaming.
Nonso sat up. “Really? You are finally doing it?” He asked, surprised.
“Yes.” She smiled. “No more procrastination.”
“It’s about time!” He said happily, enveloping her in a hug.
She laughed in surprise. “Anyone seeing your delight will think I just won the lottery.”
“I’m just happy for you jare. You deserve it.” He said, meaning it.
He had pulled away but his face was still close to hers.
It made her uncomfortable but she thought nothing of it.
“Thank you, I think so too.” She said, then made to turn away then noticed him leaning in with his lips slightly parted, and his eyes going shut.
She moved her head away from his.
“Nonso, what are you doing?” Her tone a mixture of surprise and annoyance.
He sighed, then hung his head. “I’m sorry, I should have probably made my feelings known to you before doing that but I just couldn’t help myself.”
“What do you mean?” She asked, not wanting to believe what she was hearing.
He looked up at her, his eyes meeting hers.
“I have been in love with you for a long time now. At first, I thought I was just in awe of you or just fond of you. It wasn’t until you were there for me when I was having challenges with my boss at work that I realised I had fallen for you. I knew I couldn’t have you of course, so I kept my distance. I even stopped visiting you guys for a while to make it easier to bear; and I told myself that if I could find a woman that was just like you, I would be okay. But I never did, and now I know why.” He took her hand in his. “Because there can never be another like you.”
Akudo pulled away, and got up from the couch.
She turned away from him, put her right palm on her forehead, then clamped her hands together as if gathering strength.
She whirled around.
“Nonso, I can’t believe you are saying this.”
Nonso stood up and reached for her, but she backed away.
“Akudo, I know you feel something for me.” He began.
“Not what you are thinking I feel!” She wanted to scream, but realised it would probably hurt his feelings so she went for the more measured “it won’t work.”
“It just can’t work Nonso. If only you had said you developed the feelings afterwards…but knowing you have always felt this way would make me feel like I am cheating on your friend; like we are betraying him.”
He took a step closer to her, and took her hand again. This time, she let him; all the while keeping her eyes locked on his.
“Your vows were ‘till death do us part’, and you were faithful throughout your marriage. But now, death has truly separated you two, and you have to move on.”
He used his free hand to hold the small of her back, and she stiffened at the sensation. She had not realised how much she had missed the touch of a man. Or rather, how much her body had.
“Who are we kidding Nonso?” She began, pulling away from him. “This is not some Spanish or American love story where a guy falls for his late best friend’s wife, and their family and friends are happy and they live happily ever. This is NIGERIA. First of all; to some people there is never a good enough time for a widow to move on. In fact, some people even think that we should NOT move on; instead we should focus on raising our children. Especially if you are Igbo. Do you know what those people put me through in the name of burial rights? People that I gave money and foodstuff to, and helped in more ways than I can remember. They treated me like a murderer. You are Igbo, you know the drill. 60% of the funeral rites were activities that were supposed to prove that I did not kill my husband. Imagine if they hear that I moved on with their son’s best friend? They would go as far as saying we conspired to kill him. I mean, thank God for my wonderful mother-in-law, but those umunna are something else.”
Nonso rolled his eyes but Akudo ignored it.
“Besides, you have a girlfriend.” She ended.
“Oh come on Akudo; don’t act as if you don’t know how I feel about her. There is more or less nothing there.”
“Yet, she is still your girlfriend.” Akudo said slowly, an eyebrow raised.
He took both her hands in his, and looked intently into her eyes. “Akudo, I will pick up my phone and end it with her now if it means you’ll give us a chance.”
Akudo’s countenance changed. She shook her head slowly as she pulled her hands free, folded them across her chest and turned away from him.
“What? I mean it. You don’t believe me?” Nonso said, bringing out his phone. “I will call her now. Just say the word.”
Akudo turned to face him. “And if I don’t?”
He relaxed his features in surprise.
She took a few steps closer to him, her eyes locked on his. “And what if I don’t Nonso? You leave her hanging there like a rag doll, only to be cast away when you feel like it or when you find the REAL person you want to be with?” She queried, anger undeniable in her tone.
“Where is this coming from? Is it-”
“No it’s not just because I think we won’t work.” She spat, cutting him off. “I have been wanting to say this for a long time, but I was holding onto some hope that things could work out between the two of you or that you would at least have the decency to end it with her as soon as you realised it wouldn’t; but instead, you are taking the coward’s route!”
“Hey-” Nonso began, defensively.
“No Nonso! You cannot use fancy words to explain your way out of this one. You have kept that girl locked down for nearly a decade, now you are telling me you have loved me for more than five years while you were in a relationship with her – meaning that you have stopped loving her for a minimum of six or so years yet you just kept her there? You won’t set her free, and you won’t commit to her, and now you want me to be a party to you shattering that poor young lady?”
Nonso opened his mouth to speak, but Akudo was not done.
“I am extremely sorry if, in the course of our friendship, I have led you on or given you the wrong impression but I see you as a friend and nothing more; and as a friend, I will advise that you put that young lady out of her misery so you both can finally move on with your lives.”
“Wow.” Nonso, let out.
Akudo was not going to give him the chance to think of something more intelligent to say.
“I think you should leave.” It was polite, but it was an order.
“Has it gotten to that?” Nonso said, after getting over his initial shock.
Akudo merely walked to her front door, and opened the door.
He opened his mouth to say something, but one look at Akudo’s face told him anything he said would fall on deaf ears.
He walked to the door and stopped. He looked at her, but she refused to make eye contact.
He sighed once more, then walked out the door.
It took sheer will to keep Akudo from slamming the door behind him.