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Opinions of Saturday, 28 August 2010

Columnist: Lola

An Innocent Rural Girl’s Transformation –Who Is To Blame?

Perhaps because it has become a yearly ritual among most women, I indulged in a little shopping spree at the onset of this summer season. While at a particular store in a mall, I heard a lady yelling my name a few feet away. My initial thoughts were: “Who is screaming like that in a public place?” I looked up and sighted an old acquaintance, Akos, careening towards me with excitement. Our encounter that day granted access to my mind’s museum and subsequently inspired this piece.

Years ago, when I first moved out of my parents’ home, I shared a two-bedroom apartment with a girl named Fidelia. Fidel – as she preferred to be called – and I were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. Though I was an extremely reserved individual and Fidel an extrovert, we managed to live together peacefully. I had my share of confidants but Fidel had more friends than oceans have sand. Over time, I befriended a few of Fidel’s “comrades,” even while my friendship with Fidel remained intact. But, for reasons I will not mention, I kept most of Fidel’s friends at bay. The latter group apparently lodged a complaint with Fidel that I was a snob – Akos was among said group!

Akos was the youngest among us and the only one married at the time. Her husband, Sammy, was a character I could not quite decipher – he exhibited a most peculiar behavior. He desired Fidel and aggressively pursued her, even in the presence of his wife! Akos and Fidel often dismissed Sammy’s amorous overtures toward Fidel but the man was not kidding. At a point, Akos became pregnant. And in her third trimester, as is customary, Fidel held a baby shower in our apartment for Akos.

As festivities reached a climax at the aforementioned pre-partum celebration, we looked for Sammy to perform a certain “husbandly ritual,” but we could not locate him. Someone eventually spotted him outside propositioning a lady who had attended the function. When the news reached Akos, she feigned bravado but her anguish was evident. Even after grossly humiliating his wife, Sammy’s behavior did not change – he continued to pursue Fidel and other women.

Not one to turn a blind eye to the plight of women, I decided to inquire as to why Sammy had no qualms about blatantly disrespecting his missus, and possibly find a resolution. One afternoon, as some individuals converged at our apartment, I put two lounge chairs on the balcony. To the surprise of many, I approached Sammy and made a request: “Can I talk to you for a minute on the balcony?” Sammy obliged and trailed me to the chairs.

When we sat down, I did not prevaricate. I queried Sammy about his propensity for displaying utter disregard for his better half, a woman he had stood before God and family and vowed to cherish until death part them. He stared at me and asked: “Are you sure that’s what happened?” Well, that’s how couples usually tie the knot, isn’t it?” I asked rhetorically. Sammy then quipped: “Well, I did not stand before anyone to recite any vows.”

Sammy then regaled me with a lengthy story – which I will condense – about how his union with Akos came to be. Per Sammy, they grew up in a small, rural town in Ghana. He was one of the smartest guys in the vicinity; similarly, Akos showed a lot of potential academically. Thus, Sammy took Akos under his wings, resulting in the pair spending an exorbitant amount of time together. Though their relationship was then asexual, people in the town often teased/prophesized that the duo would someday become man and wife.

One day, Akos submitted an entry for the American Diversity Visa program; she listed them as a couple and they won! Prior to embarking on their journey it was agreed that once they reached the West, they would immediately divorce. But while in America Sammy found out that in these United States, severing ties with one’s spouse – real or otherwise – was an intricate, protracted process – and not a simple task achieved overnight. Per Sammy, Akos complicated matters by “getting herself pregnant.” He had never professed to love Akos; in his view, Akos imposed herself on him and he was anxious to untangle himself.

I found Sammy’s lengthy tale hard to believe but I thought it plausible. Before I could fully absorb the story, and with lust in his eyes, Sammy leaned forward and uttered: “So, now that you know the truth, can you put in a good word with Fidel for me? I really like her.” I glared at him with contempt and responded: “You may be emotionally divorced but you are legally married. Regardless of how that marriage came about, the fact remains that you are a married man.” “So, you are not going to talk to your roommate for me?” Sammy asked. I left him at the balcony without dignifying his question with a response.

Incrementally, I became receptive to Akos. I noticed an aura of sereneness and – almost childlike – innocence about her that was endearing. As is common among women, every so often we would discuss the men in our lives. I asked Akos how she met and married Sammy, and she told a story identical to what her husband had recounted earlier, with the exception of one crucial detail: there was never a verbal or written agreement to part ways once in America! When I asked her views on Sammy’s constant flirtatious antics with Fidel and other women, Akos intimated that she was not worried. Her belief was that once the baby arrived, her husband would change and all will be well.

I then remarked: “Akos, if he doesn’t already love you, having a baby will not make him love you, do you understand?” “Love?” Akos asked. “Wode3 y33p3 aware pa a, wose love,” she said with a roll of her big brown eyes and a smile. “But love and marriage are inextricable – in the absence of love, a marriage cannot survive,” I thought to myself. Dumbfounded by Akos’ logic, I said nothing further. After Akos gave birth, to her delight, Sammy became very attentive to her and their newborn – at least, for a while.

One year post-parturition, Akos – and the rest of us – learned that a Senegalese lady was six months pregnant with Sammy’s child. In an attempt to regain her husband’s attention, Akos applied her twisted logic and decided to have another child. Months later, her grand scheme would crumble as Sammy filed for separation upon learning that Akos had conceived. This was about the time that we all dispersed – some got married and, as a result, moved to different States or cities, while others relocated to cohabit with their loved ones.

Until our encounter at the mall, I had neither seen nor heard from Akos in ages. After we hugged and complimented each another, I queried her about the welfare of her kids. I did not ask about Sammy and Akos did not mention him. She inquired of my old beau and marital status and I answered her; to my astonishment, Akos would launch a speech about the perils of being married. Her pronouncements indicated that her marriage had disintegrated, as it’s not commonplace for married women to speak ill of matrimony – at least, not publicly.

We reminisced about old times as we shopped; Akos grabbed ensembles that I thought were a bit risqué but I said nothing. In the dressing room, she adorned a low-cut crimson dress and asked for my thoughts. “It’s too tight and the plunging neckline screams ‘look at me,’” I opined. “Yes, I want the world to take note that I’m alive!” Akos declared. “Since when did you start dressing provocatively? I remember when your taste was conservative with a touch of innocence,” I concluded. “Since I learnt that I only have one life to live!” Akos replied.

Listening to Akos numerate the parties and concerts that she planned to attend – both in and out of State – to fulfill her perception of a life fully lived, she sounded uncharacteristically erratic. One did not have to be a trained psychologist to deduce that Akos suffered from a broken heart and, perhaps, a bit of untreated post-partum depression. I surmised that she suffered more from the former than the latter, hence her desire to hop from one party to the next – clearly, an attempt to fill the void that often accompanied a broken heart.

Akos opted for the aforesaid low-cut ruby dress and said that she was leaving, so we parted ways in the dressing room. As I watched her scurry off in her miniscule skirt and backless halter-top, I was overwhelmed with a sense of sadness. The innocence Akos once exuded had been replaced with bitterness and exasperation. Weeks later – via a telephone conversation – I incidentally mentioned to Fidel that I had earlier encountered Akos at the mall. Fidel then delved into details about Akos’ emotional and psychological breakdown after Sammy abandoned her for the girl of Senegalese descent.

From what I understood, some had summoned “Antoa nsuo”, fire, and brimstone upon Sammy for abandoning Akos – a girl he had known since childhood – when the latter was in a most delicate state; others faulted Akos for using pregnancy as a means to garner love from a man. Since it was impossible to ascertain whether there was an agreement to part ways in America, I found it difficult to apportion blame to either Akos or Sammy.

In your view, who should be blamed for Akos’ emotional and mental breakdown? Who should we fault for transforming an innocent small-town girl into a jaded metropolitan woman, who, while adorned in attention-seeking ensembles, would cross State lines for unproductive events? I am inclined to blame the citizens of Sammy and Akos’ hometown.

Perhaps, their constant allusion that Sammy and Akos will one day become man and wife indoctrinated an impressionable young girl to believe that she was destined to be with Sammy, thereby compelling Akos to use any resource at her disposal – i.e. the DV program and pregnancy – to realize that dream. If, for lack of a better word, the “villagers” are not the culprits, then, as a Nigerian would ask: “Na who cause am”?

Lola, Washington, DC