Just do it.
It was an unusual Saturday morning and I couldn’t get my mind off the Nike tagline that was beginning to sum up recent events in my life. One of which was definitely getting out of bed by 5.30 am on a chilly morning in November (blessed with one of those weathers that were extremely perfect for lazying in bed till midday, under the aegis of a large, warm and soothing duvet) and reaching out for my tracksuit and sneakers–both of which had been lying fallow in my wardrobe since I got them five years earlier, with the hope of one day exploring the fitfam energy in me.
Well, that day was finally it.
It was still a bit dark when I got outside but all thanks to the streetlights in my estate, it was possible to navigate my way through the sidetracks. NF’s ‘The Search’ album never hit harder as it played through my earphone, fueling my cores as I began to jog. Coupled with the cold breeze, it was easier to propel my limbs and clear my mind. I hadn’t felt that free in a minute.
In between my exasperated breaths, I couldn’t but savour the feeling of once again being at the helm of my life, and no, it ran deeper than merely exercising to rid myself of the extra fats that were starting to undefine my physique. The feeling encapsulated all the freedom I was getting from making recent changes in my life.
I couldn’t believe it had to take me that long to get my life in order, to speak up and walk away from all the things that were clipping my wings. Most importantly, I was amazed at how far I had come because just a year earlier, I had had absolutely nothing to live for.
Its quite unfortunate how a major setback from one aspect of our lives could cast an impressive shadow on other things that made us bright and exhilarated, till we lose touch with our spark and the zeal to keep moving forward. I didn’t plummet from a 100 to 0 in a flash, no… that’s not how my story should be told. Mine was a gradual enfeeblement which like most sad, man-made predicaments, began with a single wrong decision which gave breath to bigger ones, till I was left upended in a pool of nothingness.
Failing to go out prepared on a windy evening in June was the first wrong move.
This happened when I was a final year student of the Fine and Applied Arts Department at Obafemi Awolowo University. I was a young, intelligent and vibrant art enthusiast, ready to paint the world through my eyes and ride on the waves of the Picasso’s of this world. I had left my room in Moremi hall in a frenzy that evening to attend Africantistic, an event that was to hold at Oduduwa hall, celebrating and showcasing various African arts and creatives. Ada, my friend, who had gotten to the venue earlier to keep space for the both of us because I had a deadline to meet at the studio, had called my phone, speaking impatiently and with all sense of urgency.
“Ife! Please tell me you’re at least halfway there already. The venue is almost filled and I hear they’ll soon stop selling tickets”
The adrenaline that coursed through me as I dressed up was out of this world. As an upcoming artist, “Africanistic” was a big deal, an opportunity to network, get exposure and all that, and I couldn’t afford to miss it.
I made it to the venue just before they closed the gate and thanks to Ada who kept on waving, jumping, calling my name and all sorts to get my attention, I was able to locate her amidst the crowd and occupy the space she had kept for me. We hugged and burst into a deep hearty laugh at the scene we had caused.
“Thank you so much, babe!” I said, as soon as I could catch my breath.
“My dear, you don’t want to know the lengths I went to retain this seat”, she whispered into my ears. Knowing fully well what Ada was capable of; we soon had another round of belly laugh.
The event started soon after and we had our minds blown.
Ada had to leave shortly before the program ended because she had to return to her aunt’s place, which was off-campus. The event finished around 9 p.m. and I got outside the venue to meet light showers of rain that was rapidly transforming into a heavy downpour. I searched my bag hurriedly for my umbrella which I always carried; it was then I realized that I didn’t transfer the contents of my studio bag into that particular cross bag when I left my room in a frenzy.
While my hall of residence wasn’t a far distance from the venue, I was extremely allergic to cold, and braving it under such a downpour would have made me sick for days. I decided to wait it out and found a sheltered place to stay.
“Hello”, I heard someone say.
But there were a couple of other people also waiting around where I was so I had no reason to think I was being referred to. It wasn’t until the second “Hello… Please excuse me” that I looked back to discover I was being addressed by a smart-looking guy. He was wearing a T-shirt on check pants and was obviously well-groomed. He was of average height, dark and a bit buff. I estimated him to have been about 27/28 years old.
“Hi”, I replied; slightly embarrassed because I had been shivering a bit from the cold. He made a joke from the program which eased my nerves and I smiled.
“Oh, my name is Laolu,” he said stretching his hand for a handshake.
“Oluwanifemi,” I said, accepting his handshake.
He further introduced himself as an employee of one of the insurance companies that had sponsored the event and offered to drop me off at my hostel. I was a bit reluctant at first but he had this disarming smile, plus the rain was showing no sign of slowing down. We got to my hostel in no time and I was extremely grateful. We also exchanged contacts.
Olaoluwa, which I soon grew to call him, was one of the most intriguing guys I had ever met. Asides the fact that he had the best sense of humour, got my jokes and did the sweetest things, he also happened to be a melange of creativity himself. He was an art collector, had a penchant for painting plus a raw musical talent, amongst other things. He was very intelligent and quite successful for his age, and I was in awe of how an individual could possess it all. We had similar interests and would talk for hours on end. He started travelling from Lagos to see me frequently and we started dating soon after.
Falling in love with Olaoluwa was one of the easiest things to do; maybe it was because of the way he was so attentive and could reach out to my soul, or the miles he went to sweep me off my feet. Never mind that he was estranged with his mum and would sometimes yell over the phone (I mean, every family has got their own ish, no?)
The first time I discovered he was cheating on me, I had a panic attack.
We had been dating for a little over two years, and I was working as a studio assistant and also a freelance artist. We were both based in Lagos, and though saddled with the rigours of our individual jobs we still kept our relationship a priority (or so I thought), had date nights as often as our schedules permitted and I was still very much in love. Maybe that was why my chest quivered and I got terribly dizzy when I confirmed he was having an affair with this Korede girl that was his colleague at work.
I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong, what signs I missed. No one prepared me for the intense feeling of inadequacy that ensued. I had to be lacking something. Was I not fun anymore? Not sexy enough? What did she have that I didn’t? I was plagued with so many questions, and I desperately needed answers. It didn’t help that I spent hours stalking Koredes social media pages, I was too obsessed with fitting the puzzles. There had to be something to justify the cruel betrayal of trust, there had to be a reason why I deserved to be fiercely gutted.
Olaoluwa begged with eyes swollen with tears for weeks;
“I swear Ife mi, it was a one-time thing”,
“Korede was all over me”,
“I think I had too much to drink”,
“Gosh, I don’t ever want to lose you Ife mi, I can’t even breathe without you”
I was so pissed, but there was something in his eyes that screamed of sincerity, could it have been in the way he called my name–Ife mi, the way he reached out to my friends to help him plead, the way he came by my workplace every day (although I couldn’t bear to grant him an audience.) Damn! I had never seen Olaoluwa look so downtrodden. But the truth was that he probably didn’t even have to put in so much effort; I was too in love with him to walk away without giving him the benefit of the doubt. So I believed him and we got back together shortly after.
But the love of my life deserves an Oscar because it was all an act. It had to have been; why else would he cheat the second, third, fourth time, till I lost count? And no, not just with Korede, I lost track of the names of the women too. Each time I swore I was going to leave; each time my heart cried that it had reached its limit. But I kept going back, every single time.
Somewhere in the middle of all these, I gradually began to come undone.
All my close friends were pissed at me each time I broke down because say Olaoluwa had stopped picking my calls for days, was found flirting with other girls or was caught cheating on me again. They were livid and couldn’t understand why I stayed with someone adept at breaking me, damn! Like hell, I did too. I was always confused, in a frantic attempt to reconcile the Olaoluwa who cared for me, gave me the world, knew every inch of my body and soul and the Olaoluwa who was an unrepentant con man.
I stayed because I couldn’t let go of hope. Hope that it was the last time he was going to hurt me, couldn’t my friends see how hard he was trying to change? When he wasn’t breaking my heart, he was the best man I could ever wish for. Everyone talked about walking away from a cheat like it was as easy as making a decision and never looking back. No one talked about the in-betweens, of how the thought of leaving someone who was the air you breathed, your confidant and best friend was almost as heart-wrenching as the pain they caused. Olaoluwa was a good man, he was simply battling with his other half who wouldn’t remain in his pants. He had said so himself, and I wasn’t going to give up on him without a fight.
When I walked down the aisle with him a year after, I was the happiest girl on earth and I was extremely glad I stayed. He had indeed kept true to his promise and had returned to being the man of my dreams for months before his proposal. He once again showed me why I fell in love with him in the first place. We were so much in love and ready to storm the world together, I was more than glad to put all the ugly experiences behind me.
Being married to the love of my life was bliss. Olaoluwa had risen to the top ranks in his company and I was a valued Art Illustrator in a private advertising firm. We were expecting our first child and everything was smooth-sailing. Little did I know that was just the calm before the storm.
It all started to fall apart when I had a miscarriage.
Nothing hurts like having long nights of hope bleed right out of you, of waking up each day devoid of your baby bump with no baby cries to show for it, of shutting the doors of the room you had dreamed of turning into a nursery. I was inconsolable and Olaoluwa got distant. We really could’ve picked up from there but somehow he slipped back into his old ways. It wasn’t until then that I realized my huge mistake but it was too late, I was already trapped. I had played myself.
“Most married men cheat at some point, maybe you shouldn’t be so uptight, as long as he always comes back home to you.”
Those were the words of some family members, but I couldn’t take it anymore, my patience had been stretched thin. His excessive drinking started shortly after, followed closely by heated arguments which led to physical abuse. The guy I loved was moulting into a monster right before me and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.
There is a way a love drought strips you of your essence. As the faith I had in my marriage crumbled, so did other aspects of my life. I couldn’t concentrate at work, I got bereft of inspiration. It took a second miscarriage to jolt me back to my sanity. I realized that I had romanticized suffering for too long, I’d begun to think it was the new normal. That wasn’t love, it couldn’t have been. Love shouldn’t colour you blue-black, it shouldn’t continuously break your spirit.
It was difficult to accept that Id been too loving, trusting and naive. It was difficult to face the fact that I’d wasted eight years of my life. But I accepted it anyway and finally got a divorce regardless of what the society had to say about perseverance (I already had my fair share of it and was sure it wasn’t worth it)
So there I was, 32 years old and taking all the risks I should have taken a long time ago. I knew the chances of getting back on my feet with love were very slim, but fuck it, I’d been a coward for too long that I owed my self the strength to brave it. I also resigned from my job to focus full time on developing and sharing my art. The loss of two pregnancies made me realize how fickle life was; I had to chase things that really mattered, I had to spend my life doing things that really moved my spirit. Moreover, I thought, what else did I have to lose?
The sound of cars passing made me realize how long I’d been lost in my thoughts and how far I’d jogged. I paused to catch my breath and stretch my legs.
“Shit!” I muttered, realizing the journey back was just as long, but the fitfam energy in me was already spent. As I started my long walk back home (my hands gripping my waist and legs shaking from fatigue), I silently wished I had some magic spell I could whisper to teleport me back to the comfort of my bed.