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I was 15 when I first noticed the sadness, loneliness and longing in my Baba’s eyes, perhaps it had been there all the while but he was just so good at hiding it or perhaps, I was too young to understand.
I was the apple of my Baba’s eyes, he was all I had and I was all he had. I was born with a shiny silver spoon and had everything at my disposal. Baba always made sure of that. We never for once had a female in our lives, I was always scared to ask Baba if my Mama was gone or dead, careful not to upset him with the question, or perhaps I was just scared the reality might hurt me.
All my life I tried to please Baba, always behaved accordingly and took first positions every term, just so to put a smile on his face. He always looked deep into my eyes and say “I love you so much, you’re all I have got and I trust you to know that you will never disappoint me” he would then kiss my forehead and pat my shoulder.
I applied for Accounting at the University because Baba thought I would look smart in corporate wears, or perhaps he secretly conceived the idea of making me take over his business in future. I was enrolled before I even turned 17.
I first met him at the school commercials, the lecturer had dropped a handout at the business center and advised us to pick it, as his test was coming up the following week. I was at the verge of tears as I saw students walk in and struggle to get theirs, seeing the words roll freely out of their lips, how they easily laughed and related with others made me wish I could do that too. To add to my troubles, some boys kept checking me out and making fun of me, then laughing out loud. The place was getting stuffy with not so welcoming masculine smells, making me want to throw up and pass out all at once.
“Here” I heard someone say beside me and turned to see a smile on his face and his hand stretched out with the said handouts “Uhmm?” I tilted my head and mumbled, not wanting to talk because I knew I could cry any moment “Maths101, I suppose you’re here for it?” I nodded quickly and collected it, relief washing through my features and the lump in my throat disappearing. He excused himself to get another one and came back within few minutes.
“Thank you so much, you just saved my life, literally. Here’s the money for the handouts” I dipped my hand into my bag to reimburse him but he declined “But I have to pay you for it, I can’t just take it like that” we argued back and forth but he still refused to take the money. It was almost time for Baba’s driver to pick me so he volunteered to walk me to the girls hostel’s car park, but not before giving the boys who made fun of me a piece of his mind. “My name is Sheriff” he said and bade me goodbye.
A strong friendship blossomed between us from that day, he would always reserve a seat for me and sign attendance on my behalf on days I came late. We read together, did assignments together and hung out after or in between lectures. Sheriff was so fun to be with and there was never a boring moment with him. Before I knew it, I started adding two more hours to my lectures schedule so the driver will come picking me late, we will chat for a long time and sometimes I will follow him home to greet his Mama, whom I learnt was ailing.
I knew it was wrong, following a man home was wrong, but Sheriff looked so innocent, so pure, so naïve to cause me any harm. His Mama was also very warm and loving, her motherly hugs each time I visited, plus her mouth watering dishes were something I looked forward to everyday. I considered them as a family, though never mentioned it to Baba.
Sheriff asked me out on my 18th birthday and I gladly accepted, we started dating afterwards and our bond grew even fiercer. We were agemates, he born in March and I November. We always topped the class together, some semesters my points were higher, other semesters his, and some others it was same. We made sure it rotated between us the ‘Accounting couple’ as we were nicknamed. Baba became more busier as the business kept growing, he began to have less and less of my time and apologized all the time. I never minded and made sure I showed him it was okay, my second family was there and life was good.
One day, I over heard Baba speaking with our family doctor. It was quite a painful revelation, Baba was suffering from a heart condition and the doctor said he had just few more years to live. Oh no! Not my Baba, I couldn’t imagine life without him. Baba was strong and didn’t express any remorseful reaction, instead he said let Allah’s will be done. He also pleaded with the doctor not to tell me, lest I get very worried.
I cried myself to sleep that night and couldn’t wait for the next to tell Sheriff what was going on. “Let me tell you something” he began when I told him what was up amidst tears “My Mama have been ill since I was five years old. My Baba was a military man, when news of his death while at war reached her, she slumped and life was never the same anymore from then. The Military authority sponsored her treatment and she was told she had less than ten years to live, and that was 14 years ago. Sickness is not death” for a lot of reasons, his assurance calmed me, I had faith in Allah and settled for praying for my Baba instead.
Nothing really changed at home, just that Baba rested more and I tried everything possible not to upset him. Sheriff and I already had our lives planned out, graduate at 20, settle down within three to four years and then get married. We were in our final year, writing our projects and happily watching our dreams unfold. Beknownst to me that Baba had other plans. He called me one evening “Abdullah my friend’s son, you know him right? We were speaking with his father and we decided it would be good if we make an alliance between the two families by getting you both married. Abdullah has consented already, infact he’s excited about it. What do you think my daughter?”
My head was bowed, my heart beating rapidly, a painful headache setting in, the whole sitting room was spinning around me as Baba’s words kept floating around my head. What was that trying to happen to me? What will I tell Sheriff, how would I do with my love for him, how am I supposed to live with another man, not Sheriff for the rest of my life? The questions kept flooding my mind as Baba spoke on, but the only thing that stood out was the fact that Baba had a heart condition and I had to make him happy by all means, at all cost. So I found myself nodding a yes, then received his grateful blessings.
I managed to transport myself back to my room by placing my hands on the wall for support and curled myself on the bed deep in thought. I couldn’t cry, it was too harsh a plot twist to express any emotion. My problem now was Sheriff, if I can do anything, including sacrificing my love for him, for my Baba, could he? This was a difficult situation indeed.
Sheriff joined me in crying the next day at school when I told him, I wrapped my arms around him and cried the more, he wanted to push me away but I resisted. So he gave in and hugged me back. We cried for our love which was crashing before our very eyes and didn’t bother about the preying eyes of passersby, even though it was awkward seeing two adults of different sexes hugging and crying under the sun. His Mama pleaded with me to save her son’s and my life, but I explained to her that my hands were tied, I had to make my father happy because of his health.
We started avoiding each other with Sheriff at school, stopped reading and hanging out together, I terribly missed us, and I was sure he did same too. I personally because a walking skeleton covered in light skin. It was affecting us academically, so I called him in order to settle our differences. I pleaded with him to no cut ties, since we were friends and reading mates even before we started dating, he agreed after a long persuasion and I saw a longing in his eyes which I was sure mirrored mine. We resumed reading and hanging out but it became so awkward for comfort.
Abdullah smelt of expensive perfumes and maturity. He was tall, handsome and very calm. He had qualities every girl hoped to find in a man. A religious, well mannered and rich bachelor. My Sheriff was no way close to him, but of course he was not my Sheriff. He was 30, I, 20, a perfect match according to Baba.He didn’t talk much, he preferred asking me question and listened as I answered on and on. After a while his questions were exhausted and we fell into an uncomfortable silence. I couldn’t help but compare him with Sheriff with whom it was different, he did all the talking, he cracked me up with his jokes, making me laugh my heads off. We gossiped together, he could detect my mood by just looking at me and could even start dancing for me in the middle of the road.
Abdullah’s organised and calm for my liking, he had specific times he called me and specific minutes he spent on those calls, so as not to disrupt my schedules. He apologized for every slightest mistake and never got on my nerves, no lovers quarrels, nothing. It was as if he planned his life out and acted it well, well I wasn’t a piece of architecture or something and for many reasons more than one, his perfection angered me. I longed for my Sheriff, I missed my crazy young love. And I cried.
Sheriff and I both graduated with a first class. The University offered us lecturing, I knew I wasn’t going for it but Sheriff said he might if he doesn’t get a better offer. Baba was very happy and proud of me. He bought me a car and finally allowed me to drive. We were awarded the best couple of the academic year at our graduation dinner as other students were too busy to notice our breakup. Collecting the award presented to us together was the most awkward of all and I hid it immediately I got back home.
I was thrown into incessant boredom after graduation. Abdullah was growing more and more perfect by the day and Baba was already planning my wedding. He handed over everything to event planners and I couldn’t help but think about how it would have been for Sheriff. How we would have argued on colours of furniture to put in our moderate sitting room and bedroom in his Mama’s house. I became I shadow of my former self. I missed Sheriff and all the fun times we spent together with him and his Mama. And it was driving me crazy. Baba asked me on multiple occasions if I was alright but I assured him with a smile.
It was then I started missing the mother I never knew. I wished she was there with me so I could at least share my worries with her, for even if she couldn’t provide solutions to my problems, she would be able to lend a shoulder for me to cry on. I decided to investigate by myself since I didn’t want to ask Baba. The opportunity presented itself a month later when Baba set out to travel on a three weeks business trip. He always locked his room and left the keys with me. I set to work immediately after he left.
Checking on top of drawers, inside, boxes, in his mini library, behind cushions and curtains and finally I checked under the bed and saw an old box. I dragged it out and sat on the flour, I began bringing out it’s contents. They were mostly old pictures and letters I was too impatient to read. Pictures of himself alone, that of him with friends, family and colleagues, then finally I came to a picture of his young self with a young woman. Staring at the picture felt like I was staring at myself, just that I can’t remember taking such a picture and I was definitely not born in that age. Could it be my mother? I was getting excited. I stared at the picture for long till I felt tears in my eyes.
I kept on seeing pictures of her, some with her holding a baby whom I suspected was me. I finally saw one which stood out, she looked so elegant and I stared for long. I flipped over and saw a name, Maryam written boldly and an address scribbled beside the name. I took the picture and quickly stuffed everything I found in the box back. I had to act fast. I went back to my room and called Sheriff, he picked on the first ring, I pleaded with him to come over fast as it was an emergency. I got ready and was already outside, clutching the picture tightly when he came. I showed him the address and begged him to drive me there as I was too apprehensive to drive. He gave in after a while and we set out on our journey, it was a forty minutes drive there and after asking around, we finally got to the address. After telling the person at the door that we’re looking for a certain Maryam and showing her the picture, she said she already parked out from the house so many years ago.
I didn’t loose hope as I asked her if she knew her new address, the woman became paranoid until we assured her that we meant no harm and even showed her our school ID cards. The new address wasn’t very far either, we thanked her and left. It was then I remembered, when I was a child, Baba drove down to the house every Saturday and we would sit in the car some yards away and wait till we saw a woman walk out, sometimes she was alone and other times she walked out hand in hand with a man. Baba would look at her for a while before we left whenever she came out alone, but drive away quickly when she was in the company of the man. On days we weren’t lucky to see her, Baba would be moody throughout the day. Whenever I asked him who the woman was, he told me she was someone he loved. We stopped coming when I was about 7, I guess that was when she parked out. It added up now, Baba was coming to check up on my Mama.
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