It’s been fifteen years since we last saw each other. In-between, we had settled into life’s exploratory encounters, hopeful that we would someday connect again, at least to find out how the years and their twists have treated us as we strove to cope with the bliss and blight of daily survival.
How do you hug an old friend? I mean one you both shared fraternal friendship with, and as the years passed, you drifted away, wondering what has happened to the other, sometimes looking back with nostalgia.
I sighted her walking towards the reception desk. She was her old self! Grown and mature, but her true self still, with same gait I’ve identified her with. I didn’t want her to start asking around, so I decided to meet her up. Our eyes met, gazelle-like. She, with her arms open in dancing dexterity and I, smiling with suppressed excitement to control the attention of standers-by, rushed an embrace, silently. Breathless! It might have been fifteen seconds since we hugged, each second bursting with life of a year of absence. Then, I looked into her eyes. There was that silent wish in her suddenly sullen eyes: I wish you could take me away. I wish I didn’t have to go back to him. The words were needless, too heavy to say, but I could feel each stroke through her heartbeat.
In letting go my hold of her, my mind raced through memory lane, to the years in the university. One scene emerged from the hazy memory. The scene was my living room. She had come to inform me of the release of our grade for a particular course. I had an A and she, a D. She had put in so much effort and the result didn’t reflect that at all. As she complained of the poor grade, droplet of tears sauntered down her cheeks, then a torrent. She became uncontrollable and as much as I tried to calm her down, she didn’t come around. Helpless in wiping her tears, I fell into a sudden siege and drained my back on the wall till I was on the tiled floor, my eyes letting out torrents that competed with hers. I can’t say if I cried out of sympathy or helplessness. Whatever it was, her tears dried up and I was now to be consoled. We were that emotional.
As the memory receded, I asked her to a seat at a quiet corner. I wanted to listen to her, not to recount the tales of pain she had undergone lately, but to tell me how she had survived it.
“I’m not happy and I know I wear it as a veil.” Her voice couldn’t betray the timidity and innocence of years ago.
“I know.” I’ve always known, anyway, even without saying a word about it.
“I feel trapped in this marriage; helpless. I don’t want to be seen as a failure.” Her pain was palpable. Her skin had grown tough, her beauty beaten by the pain. I let her reel out the highlights of her almost-a-decade-old endurance, starting from the short-lived joys of newly-weds through the seething moments of her undiagnosed ill-health and miraculous recovery to masculine insensitivity and abuse she had to live with. I’ve heard these before, only now I had to endure the pain of watching her tell it with so much stress and grace. She was broken, and I was too. I spoke little, almost nothing. I didn’t want us to spend the few minutes we had wailing. I wanted to remember the meeting, to make her laugh and remember the laughter. I ordered chapman for two and as we waited, I turned on the camera of my phone and clicked. I clicked again. She lightened up, her full-blown smile back to life. She seemed delighted to leave a part of her with me; as much as I wanted to take away a part of her too.
“It’s so good to see you. Really nice we could meet.”
“Yes o. I’m so happy we could see.” She was shy; it wasn’t a strange trait.
“I know life hasn’t been easy and with all you go through…” I nodded in disbelief. “I’m wondering where you got the grace to withstand all these. You, of all people.” It wasn’t that I felt she wasn’t strong, but that she was the least to trouble a man who’d love her.
“Hmmmm…Honestly, I’ve wondered too. But it could only have been God.”
“Good to hear that. That means God isn’t done with you.”
“I know,” her voice betraying her disbelief. “But for how long? I’ve reached the end of my strength”
Silence fell upon us. It was that trice one lets in the moment to allow its truth simmer through the pores of our thoughts. I reached for her palm and held it closely. She looked up to my eyes, with a questing that seeks some uncertain consolation. “Sometimes we assume our marriage is the worst or we’ve hit the wall.”
“I really don’t think any other case is worst than mine. Not knowing what my husband wants and his not expressive of his thoughts truly compound the strained relationship. I can’t say we’ve a marriage. It’s like a forced union.” Her voice had that lachrymal underlining, ridden by intensity of subconscious but debilitating pain.
“All we need is a little more faith; faith that lives not on grand hope, but one that takes us through each moment, each day. You’ve held on this long. You could hold on longer.”
I decided to share a story with her, for whatever it was worth. It was a story of a friend who had been married for almost twenty years before the husband died out of an accident. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and a marriage that was obviously an enviable one. Both were active members of their church, respectable couple. Sort of a model as seen by the outside world, yet somewhere did an unknown secret lurk. On the day of the burial, as the church called out the man’s children for blessing, three other children he had with another woman also stood up. It was the first time the wife was to ever become aware that her husband had other children after marrying her. She would later discover that her husband’s brothers knew about the out-of-wedlock children and kept it diligently from her knowledge as though they had sworn to an oath of secrecy.
Now my friend looked on with disbelief, but I managed to ask her “How do you think the wife felt when she discovered the truth and the deception? ”
“I don’t know what to think. I’d think I was never married, that the marriage never existed.”
“Now you can see that every marriage is like the waves of the sea. Each wave brings its own experience and you’ve to learn how to adjust the sails, steer your ship or be drown.”
She breathed in deep, then let out some air. “But at least she had her kids to console her.”
“And who says you won’t have yours? All you need to focus on is building a loving home that welcomes a child.”
“I’m only hoping on God. It’s not easy, but I guess I’ve no choice.”
These were the words I needed to hear, an agreement that she could take a step of faith each day, trusting God in the littlest of things. I could sense that a ray of hope seems to have tinseled through her consciousness. I reached out for her two hands and quietly took the role of the muezzin. Only that this was conducted silently, asking for strength for her and the courage to look up when dragged down. When we were done, she relaxed her back and took a whole look at me.
The tension in the air dissipated and we settled down to our drinks that had long stood there in lonely company. “You look quite good,” she said. “Your wife is taking good care of you.”
A smile gathered around my cheeks, causing a gaze of affection that drew a hearty, relieving smile from her. Our hearts seemed to have hugged again.