PEBBLES

I had been pacing furiously around my room for an hour, alternately stopping to stare at the beautiful black and white grandfather clock I bought in Kenya. Instead of proper hands, the minute hand was a huge question mark. Cute, eh? I used to think it was a steal. Now I wondered if it was a sense of doom that made me buy it.

Digression: My name is Olusesan Olajumobi. My girlfriend is pregnant with my child. I remember asking how it happened. Her silence was louder than any biology lesson. Stunned, I had flopped down heavily on my bed and tried to wrap my mind around the news. I could hear her calling my name but it seemed to come from far away. I had the vague sensation of someone shaking me roughly and opened my eyes (please don’t ask how they got closed in the first place) to find Zulaihha bent over me in terror. Even now, I cannot think about my temporary weakness (it was not a fainting fit, thank you very much) without mortification.
“Sesan… baby, you’re not saying anything. At least tell me what you’re feeling.”
Panic, terror, disbelief, anger, denial… There were lots of apt words to describe what I was feeling but I said nothing and looked at my girlfriend instead. She was trying hard to be strong but I knew she had to be terrified. With our society’s attitude to women, she had more reason to be scared. Recognizing the thinly veiled panic in her voice, I knew I had to do something but I didn’t know what to say. Was I to comfort her and tell her it’ll be alright? It was definitely not alright. Or ask her to marry me and give birth to my baby? How was I even sure it was mine? That thought was so disloyal it brought a fresh burst of anger. This was all her fault. If she hadn’t gotten pregnant, I wouldn’t be thinking horrible thoughts about her. Suddenly claustrophobic, I picked up my car keys and started out the door. She immediately followed and attempted to stop me.
“Sesan… please say something … anything … don’t clam up. Baby, I’m scared. What are we going to do?”
I didn’t trust myself to answer so I just stalked out. I needed to think. However, she ran after me and clutched my shirt sleeve. “Sesan, where are you going? We need to…”
Nervously, I cut her off brusquely, “I’m not running away O.K.?’ Seeing her stricken expression, I added softly “I just need to think, Zee. I’m feeling overwhelmed. I’ll be back soon. Just … don’t go anywhere. We’ll figure this out. Somehow” Shaking her off gently, I had closed the door in her worried face and left.

I had driven to the beach and walked for an hour. The choppy waves reflected the turmoil in my soul. What to do? What to do? Whattodowhattodowhattodowhattodoooo? The waves threw the question back at me and I had no answer. I can still myself in my mind’s eye; a tall, young man of twenty, walking on a Lagos beach, ignoring curious passersby wondering why a person would wear leather to the beach. Shoes were a small matter compared to what lay in front of me.

I had met Zee at a Christian dinner in the University. I was hooked from the moment I saw her. It wasn’t just her looks- she was half Efik, half Hausa with very fair skin, long hair and hazel eyes (I loved teasing her about her recessive albinism). She had this way of carrying herself that was so dignified and a voice that would have put her on radio if she wanted. Only close friends knew how playful and mischievous she could be. We became friends and started dating soon after and things had been swell till now.

Whattodowhattodowhattodo? Various solutions fought for audience in my mind. I was torn between my beliefs and fear of exposure. What was I going to tell my pastor? Our friends? My parents? More importantly, her parents? I broke out in a cold sweat just thinking of Alhaji Bello. Zulaihha was the apple of his eye, his only daughter. It was bad enough she had become a Christian after we became friends. The man would kill me for sure. My parents would rant and my father, a staunch elder in his church would rather disown me than be shamed before his congregation. I walked on and turned the problem over till my head started to hurt.
What will I tell God?

Physically and mentally tired, I had driven back to my room. Zee was curled up on my bed. She was so still I thought she was asleep, but she stirred when I came in. She must have been listening for the car because the first thing she said was “We have to abort the baby.”
I must have looked as taken aback as I felt because she snapped, “Oh don’t act like it hasn’t crossed your mind.” Of course It had crossed my mind but the thought was so horrible and frightening I had pushed it away. Fornication was one thing. Abortion took the cake.

Dropping my keys on the dresser while simultaneously taking off my shoes and placing them on the metal shoe rack by the door, I shook my head, “Zee…” but she cut me off sharply.
“Don’t Zee me, Sesan. Come up with a better solution and we’ll talk.” She was veering on the edge of hysteria so I just walked to her and held her in my arms while I told her I loved her and promised her we’d go through this together. I could feel her shaking. I didn’t have the answers but I had realised at the beach that I would stay with her in this. I had to. She was mine and this decision was tantamount to a pebble tossed into the sea of time. What did we know then, two fourth year students with their whole lives head of them? We had talked it through during the night, looking at it from all angles. We talked of our faith, our schooling, our families; we even talked of marriage and the possibility of going through finals, internships and youth service with a baby. There was an element of excitement too. I wondered if it’ll be a boy. She was sure it was a girl. We made our decision in the early hours of the morning.

That was twenty years ago. It is a beautiful day and I am sitting at the window so I see the car as it pulls into the driveway. I smile slightly. My wife of thirteen years is home. I am almost at the door when our eight year old daughter, Remilekun runs in.
“Daddy, E kule” she greets me then runs in to drop the packages she is holding in the kitchen.
“Remi, how many times have I told you not to run in the house?” Zulaihha walks in, also loaded down with stuff.
“Women!” I kiss her while helping her with her load “Did you clean out my credit card?” I tease. She smiles at me and replies innocently “I thought you told us to spend all your money because you love us. Didn’t he, Remi?”

Remi is back now and happily lists all the things they bought. I pretend to faint at the list and we all laugh. I catch my wife’s eye and see what I know she sees in mine too. I blow her a kiss and she smiles sadly at me. It is like this every year. The day goes on and Remi is finally shooed off to bed at eight with much protests and wheedling, none of which work on us. We pray at her bedside and Zee leaves after exchanging kisses. It is my turn to tuck her in. I arrange the covers and I’m about to leave too when Remi asks sleepily “Why is mummy sad, daddy?”
I am startled but kiss her and tell her mummy is not sad but just tired. She nods sleepily, then presses a peck to my cheek, whispering “I love you, daddy”. My throat is suddenly tight but I nod and whisper back, “You too, Remilekun, You too…”

Zulaihha is standing in the middle of our bedroom. She is holding the huge bouquet of flowers I had placed on the table. Her fingers are trembling as she reads the script on the plain white card. I take the flowers from her, pull one out and place it in her hair. Her hair is greying slightly and she has put on some weight. When she looks at me though, her eyes are still the same hazel I fell in love with. I don’t say a word, just hold her and allow myself to be held, and healed too. After a long while, she whispers “Baby, I know we have been forgiven and we have forgiven ourselves but if you had the chance, would you do it differently?”
I stroke her hair and kiss her gently, this woman who cannot give birth to her own children because I was too scared to do the right thing; this love of mine who cries this day every year for a lost child because that butcher thinly veiled as a surgeon made a stupid mistake. I hold her and reply with all my heart that yes, knowing what I know now about God, knowing how the guilt can tear you to pieces, remembering the barren and pain filled years before we got Remi, yes, I would have done it differently.

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