© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
The first man stole my money and dignity and left me with an unwanted baby.
The second drove all my friends away and turned me into a recluse.
The third…well, the third man put my daughter in the family way and made me an untimely grandmother.
I have stopped searching. What’s the big deal about love anyway? I am all of my thirty-four years and will not be fooled anymore.
How can a man whisper love to you, yet rob you and turn tail when your shared love produces a child? Or, how can a man profess love when he’s all consumed by jealousy and can’t bear to share you with others, not even your family and friends. And how can you talk about love when a man heads over heels in love with you makes a baby with your fifteen-year-old daughter?
They tell me I’ve become a cynic. Overcautious, skeptical, too wrung out.
Perhaps yes, perhaps no. All I know is that I’ve finally grown up, and grownups use their senses, and not their hearts.
“Hello mum.” Femi, my daughter bounds into the room with Bolu slung over her shoulder.
“Hi.” I return, reaching out automatically for my four-month-old granddaughter. When I allow myself to think of the circumstances of her birth, grief paralyses me and my heart almost always threatens to explode out of my chest. So I think less often of how she got here and more of how much I love her.
It’s been a long, sad year but the sadness and the tears and the pain has driven Femi and me back together. We’ve spent the past one year weeping and growing together.
“I just finished feeding her. Would you mind watching her awhile? There’s a youth group meeting in church this afternoon.”
Femi has just gotten herself religion, the kind of which I have never seen before. Church on Sundays and two evenings a week. No more mini-skirts and tank tops. At age sixteen? I can’t for the life of me imagine how. Or why?
“You’re not studying as hard as you used to anymore.” I chide her foolishly even though she made straight As in her last exams.
“That’s not true, Mum. You know I try to get in some extra hours when Bolu falls asleep at night. And youth group makes me happy. I’m really learning a lot. Last meeting, our instructor talked about love.”
“Love?” I look up from burping Bolu.
“Yeah. How that one can only find true love in Jesus Christ. He said it is useless trying to find love in things or even in people. Things get destroyed and people change, he said, but only God’s love stays constant.”
She sighs and falls into the chair beside me. “I think it’s true talk, Mum. If not, why did all your friends abandon us when I fell pregnant for Uncle Dave? And my friends too? Why is it that the neighbours don’t greet us anymore? Why, if not for the simple reason that people only love you when you do good?”
I find that I cannot talk, that there is a huge ball the size of Lagos in my throat.
Femi went on unrelentingly, “If God didn’t love us unconditionally, He would have killed me for what I did to you…”
“It wasn’t your fault,” I cut in for want of something to say, “Uncle Dave forced himself on you.”
“The first two times, Mum. Afterwards, I gave in willingly.” There are tears in her eyes. For the last one year, she has done nothing but apologise, and I have forgiven her. In fact, I have never blamed her.
Dave was a grown man who had somehow convinced my fifteen year old that he loved her, and that she was the one for him. He had raped her at first, and then somehow gotten her to believe that he was in love with her, and that she was in love with him reciprocally.
“Perhaps it is true what the youth leader says about God and love, Mum.”
I reflect. No one in my life has ever loved me unconditionally. Not one single person. “Go ahead, tell me more.” I tell my daughter.
“He also said that it is only God who is able to put good people in your life who will love you despite anything. Faithful husbands, good mothers. Caring friends.”
“I think I’m going to give God a trial. Sounds like a good bargain to me. I love Him; He loves me and puts good people in my life. And I think you should do the same. Then we could perhaps ask for a husband for you?”
“You’re still young! Only thirty-four. You shouldn’t spend the rest of your life looking after me and Bolu.”
“I think you should go now. Or you’ll be late.”
She wipes the tears from her eyes and smiles broadly, that mischievous smile that is uniquely hers. “Okay Mum, but promise me you’ll give it good thought. It’s going to be worth it.”
I hesitate to reply. No one’s ever loved me unconditionally, so why would God?
“Okay, I promise.” I say as I bounce Bolu on my knees. My heart is racing in my chest but perhaps God is worth giving a try, if He would take me, baggage and all.
I will give Him a trial.
For her sake. For Bolu’s sake.
For God’s sake.