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Opinions of Sunday, 14 February 2010

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

A Valentine Story: Love Is A Risk [Part Two]

I left the Central Cafeteria that Sunday afternoon with an indescribable feeling and everything that happened to me was as if I was on a different planet. After telling the taxi driver where I was going, I closed my eyes and rested my head on the back seat, which had not headrest. I 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 say here in Ghana. Perhaps on an international channel.

Acute epilepsy? Dulcie? Why? Why her? How could nature be so wicked? What crime had she committed that God decided to tease her to death? I still refused to think, as I walked drowsily from the taxi into my room. Before I entered the room I went to the washroom to empty my bladder. I didn’t foresee myself getting out before the following day. For what? What good thing was in the sinister world for me to take?

After undressing, I lay on bed exhausted from a conspiracy of 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? If it were, 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 suchlike 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 head teacher 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 could not hide how I felt though it was very uncouth on my part to show how I felt. 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, for the tables had turned and I had the difficult 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!

The decision I was going to take was going to bind me for the rest of my life. I dreaded her repulsive disorder as she herself had put it. But was I going to allow her to go? As for falling in love out of sympathy, it was out of the question. It is something I would not advise my implacable enemy to do. Marriage is an eternal journey, a journey of no return if one wants to avoid the indignity of divorce its attendant problems. So one must always make the best choice, or at least, the nearest to best.

In matters of love the heart, they say, has a mind of its own and can make its own decisions. But I’ve also grown to realize that when it comes to love matters, the heart and the mind are usually engaged in a battle. The mind usually advances the best points and good reasons but the heart would always win in the end.

“What at all have you seen in this lady that you can’t reason a little?” Mind would ask.

“Who told I can’t reason? I say she is the one I love and that’s all,” Heart would reply.

“That’s irrational. In loving someone, you have to take many factors into account, and so far, you have not given me any reason why you are so mad about this girl, who has nothing to offer our master,” Mind would not relent. “Irrational? In whose judgement? I have told you that she is the one I love and there is nothing you can do to change my mind, my friend.”

“You’re, indeed, very funny. Do you have any mind of your own?” Mind would ask. “Then how do I take those reasonable decisions? Don’t ever think I don’t think before arriving at my decision,” Heart would prove. “Remember, our master is no mean a person. He can get any woman of his choice to marry so why do you settle on this good-for-nothing bitch and refuse to be a little reasonable? Remember at his work place that beautiful, humble and well-bred graduate is dying over him. I hope you have not forgotten about pretty medical assistant who lives in the next flat. Would it not be with enormous pride if our master married her? What about the catechist’s daughter who is the manager of that multinational company? You seem to blind to all these ladies with these enviable and sterling qualities. Instead you’re rooting for this one who paints her body with all manner of coulours and wears grotesque make-up. When I look at her I see a Hindu goddess. You…”

“Enough is enough!” Heart would snarl. “Have I ever forced my decision on our master? You talk and I also talk but he always listens to me, despite my irrationality as you’ve said. Let’s not quarrel over this. It is he who decides and at the end of the day, we’ll see who wins,” Heart would conclude teasingly. And the heart would always win.

So if you see a young man or lady dying over someone you may call “a bitch,” do not complain. The mind is always subservient to the heart in the decision making process when it comes to love. The decision of the heart is final. So it was in my case. Despite the trauma I had gone through in the past and could not sit in the same class with an epileptic classmate, my heart said it was either Dulcie or no any other lady, much to the displeasure of my mind, which thought otherwise. But as the Sunday, approached, my mind for the first time began to reason with my heart. It started when the import of the risk I was about to take dawned on me like day as I lay in bed one night thinking about it. How severe was her sickness that all the men who came her way could not bear with it and had to abandon such a beautiful and brainy lady?

“But have you forgotten that love is a risk?” Heart asked Mind. “It is one of the greatest risks one can ever take in life. But remember, where there is no shame there is no honour.”

“For the first time, you’ve said something sensible,” Mind told Heart. Yes, love is indeed a risk. The character of your partner can change even if he or she had the best of character. And as I considered the hell I was being forced by love to enter, I realized that I wasn’t an angel myself. Besides, everybody is a potential disabled person. I had been to the Korle Bu Accident Centre before and when that thought crossed my mind, I saw Dulcie as an able bodied beauty. A well-built handsome young man I worked with once told us that he was going to Koforidua over the weekend to see his “flower”. The following Monday we were shocked to hear that he was involved in an accident on his way back and would forever be confined to the wheelchair. It was there at the same accident centre I later saw this pretty lady banker and friend, who had undergone plastic surgery after an accident and made me lose appetite when I saw her. Did their spouses bargain for these conditions? What if this happened to either Dulcie or me after marriage? Would we call it quits? Many rational thoughts occurred to me and I became philosopher of love as I thought deeply about my life with Dulcie. I had to expect anything after marriage and I was lucky I knew of it. At least I could prepare psychologically.

I smiled to myself, and there and then I picked my phone and dialed her number. I wanted to tell her that I loved her. But she wouldn’t listen.

“Please, I said needed the reply on Sunday. Don’t rush,” she advised. “The last to dump me accepted to go out with me the moment I told him about my deformity, but what happened? Sunday is not far from now. Please think about it well. I want you to tell me in person.”

So finally the Sunday came. And we met.

“Please, there is one thing I want to tell you. I can’t tolerate cheating. And I can’t forgive you if you cheat on me,” she said, her facial expression corroborating the words that parted her dainty lips. “If you poison or shoot me and I survive. You may come back to plead and I’ll forgive you. But if you cheat on me, not even God, and I mean it, not even God can intervene. I’m happy you love me as I am. I assure you that when it comes to my love, you have no competitor. Let’s only pray that the good Lord see us through. I know it will be difficult for both of us but there is nothing a willing heart has never achieved before.”

I thanked her and promised to be hers, and hers alone.

“When do you want us to get married?” she asked me. “You seem not to be thinking about that now?” she added when she found out that that aspect was nowhere near my current plans.

I told her I had to put one or two things together before I could think about marriage. But that was not to say that I was still unsteady about the decision I had taken, I assured her. And so from that Sunday, Dulcie became my lover. It was more than a dream come true. And I was proud of her, which she knew. When I first met her I told myself that getting her to accept my proposal would put me at the apex of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. But now that I had her, I realized that I was still miles away from self-actualisation in life. How could I marry when I hadn’t got any decent salary, no decent accommodation? Due to her ailment, I didn’t enjoy much of her company and the joy that comes with dating such a beautiful jewel. I can count the number of times we went out in all the three years we dated. She told me that the disease was so disgraceful that it came where there were a lot of people. I prayed it never occurred in my presence and thankfully, for all the three years, anytime she suffered convulsion, I was not present. We were also not together and that helped a great deal. After my National Service in Cape Coast, I secured a job there while she worked in Accra. We visited each other once a while and as time went on, I realized I could not have made a better decision in accepting to go out with her though I still dreaded the day she might suffer an attack in my presence. But for how long could I avoid that? I psyched myself up by concentrating on her positive qualities, which she had in abundance.

Dulcie’s inner beauty outshone her outward appearance and I found it rare and pleasantly strange.

On the day of our wedding, we insisted that the ceremony be a modest one. A large crowd would be a disservice to us. But it was not going to be as we had planned. She came from a family that was well respected for everything, good name, wealth, and every noble thing one could think of. So in the church auditorium sat close to a thousand congregants and well-wishers.

I had asked some prayer warriors from my church to keep praying throughout the ceremony against any eventuality. Weddings are sacred and anything could happen, I told them. I kept the real prayer topic from them. I had made a vow to Dulcie and that aside; I would not want to spoil the joy with which people came to witness the wedding. The only way to keep a secret is to keep it with you alone. Tell one trusted friend and the whole world would be humming with the rumour. “Can you believe he is marrying an epileptic?” one would whisper. “So is this thing true? Is it because of the beauty or the money in her family?” another will join. “Have you forgotten that love, they say, is blind?” And so it would continue. My mother was the first to realize that I wasn’t my usual self during the wedding. She sent my younger sister, Suzy, to tell me to look a bit cheerful even if I had some scores to settle with the bride.

“Mummy says she is not happy with the way you carry yourself,” she whispered so faintly that I heard her because her lips were almost in my ear. Dulcie must not hear that. “She says there is no one who has ever married, hundred percent pleased with his or her spouse.”

But mine was not dissatisfaction with the bride, it was fear. The fear of something they did not know.

“My Guardian Angel, I know how you feel and I understand you but cheer up. I know the God we serve will not disgrace us. He will not allow our enemies to gloat over our shame,” Dulcie later told me when she realized that I was too moody for such an occasion. With those words, I lightened up. She was a lady who gave me hope with her words when I was downhearted.

I put on an artificial smile and responded to the cheers from friends, relatives and fellow workers. If they had known what I was going through, they surely would have kept their cheers to themselves and prayed for me. But God being so good, we sailed through the wedding and the after-reception without any incident. “Thank you, Jesus, for this wonderful day,” I sighed and fell on the bed of our hotel room where we were to have our two-week honeymoon. But Dulcie had something to say and from the way she looked, the joy that lighted my heart after that incident-free wedding retraced its steps to where it had come from. “What is it, my Angel?” I asked, very worried. Then she started to weep. “Please, stop crying and tell me whatever it is,” I consoled her and wiped her tears with a handkerchief. My mind revisited the day she told me about her predicament. It went like this. But what is that she had hidden from me all this while? Why had she not told me but had waited for me to commit myself, knowing full well that there was nothing I could do at this juncture? How was I going to bear this? I knew love was a risk but there was a limit. The frog, they say, likes water but not when it is boiling. Anger was beginning to well up in me even before I heard her.

“Please, promise you’ll forgive me and continue to love me if I tell you what I’m about to say,” she said, still sobbing and looking intently at me. “I love you and will always love you, come what may,” I said uneasily. “I’m not epileptic!” she said.

And I froze.

“I just wanted to marry someone who truly loves me. And thank God I’ve found you. Seven different men have come my way but they’ve all failed my love test. Some just wanted to have an affair with me and find their way but when I insisted that there would not be any sex before marriage, they left. They could not bear the shame that comes with such a sickness when it occurs in public, I think. I also lied to you that they used me and dumped me in order to make my story sound more believable. I’m still a virgin.” Another chilling revelation! I looked at her with unbelieving eyes. Then she continued. “You have proven that you truly love me and I promise to reciprocate your love in whatever way I can. I’ll forever remain faithful to you in all things. I love you and will do anything to please you. Forgive me for robbing you of the joy of dating and courting. I will make up for that in whatever way I can. I love you, my Guardian Angel.” The news was too good to be true! I sat still. I had questions to ask but that would be later. I was too shocked to think clearly and ask any question. Besides, they were not necessary at this moment. I raised my head and looked at the lady seated by me on the bed. She looked more beautiful than ever. She was a lady I could never have won in a fair contest, not even with Oberon’s Potion!

Our eyes met and we stared fixedly at each other. Then I could not see her again. Tears blurred my vision. I cried colourless tears onto the pink shirt I wore under my French suit. She cried too. Then we held hands. Then our mouths got locked in kissing. Then our clothes began to peel, involuntarily. The expensive clothes were thrown away like pieces of rags. We were later to discover one of her hand gloves under the bed when we were leaving two weeks later. They didn’t matter at that moment. Soon we were in a world of our own, out of planet earth. “Jeeesus!” I heard it but I didn’t know whose lips it escaped.

We melted into one, and into space. And true to her word, she was untouched, a pure virgin. And it was a memorable night. A night I would never forget for the rest of my life. That was twenty years ago, but I still remember that night very vividly. As vividly as the day I broke my code, my virginity. When I asked her where she wanted us to spend this special Valentine’s Day, which marks exactly twenty years since we tied the knot, she proposed the Central Cafeteria of the University of Ghana and I made no objection. It all began here and as we sit sipping bottles of alvaro, I have repeated for the umpteenth time to her. “Dulcie, I could not have made a better decision in marrying you,” I say. “I’ll forever be grateful to God for creating you. And I will forever bless the day we met. I’ll love you till the Atlantic Ocean goes dry as we used to say back in the elementary school,” she reassures me. We laugh! As I look at her now, she is not the same as I met her twenty years ago. Her body has lost its imposing gracefulness. Her breasts, which once stood at an angle of ninety degrees on her chest, like newly raised yam mounds are no longer standing. Even with the tight fitting bra she is wearing, they are lying at an angle of thirty degrees, perhaps exhausted from mouths of our four beautiful and bright children and the incessant sucking from their father. We men, too!

But there is some beauty that has grown and over the years. It is her inner beauty. It is that inner beauty that has bound us together like a string in all these twenty years. In fact, when I say Dulcie is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in all my life, I mean her inner beauty. And the kind of hers is very rare, as rare as twenty-one year old virgins in this twenty-first century of ours. And I could never have got her but except that I understood number one principle of love.

Love Is a Risk.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [maxighana.com] email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Accra. To read more his works, visit www.maxighana.com