Watching the tears fall from your eyes, the day I left two years ago, has been one of the most painful things in my life. Every time I attempt to write to you, the image of your teary eyes, and the disappointment that shone through, freezes the blood that flows to my right arm, making writing impossible. Today, I finally pinned down my courage.
Fadérẹra, when I proposed marriage to you, you almost lost balance. I knew that was more a function of your fears than a feeling of dizzying joy. I was no prize, Fadérẹra. You were.
I remember Uncle Osuolale asking if I had used our village’s infamous mind-altering juju on you. He said that he struggled to see what a ravishing, well-mannered beauty like you saw in a poorly paid, wannabe War Correspondent like me.
“Her vision will become clearer once she realizes that nothing good can come out of a perpetual daydreamer”, Uncle Osuolale said dismissively.
I also doubted myself incredibly, but you kept reassuring me that only your eyes could see my unstated greatness. Anytime I called myself the “class captain of the damned group”, you’d strongly rebuke and warn me not to bring a curse on the family with my self-pitying ramblings.
Fadérẹra, you scared me with the way you trembled the day I proposed. Even when you said yes, all I could only see and hear was “NO” rolling from those curved lips of yours. This made me uncertain and insecure about us. I was always prepared for the day you’d lose interest. The pretend thespian in me would rehearse how I’d respond on such fateful day. One part of me, that stubborn streak I inherited from my mother, would whisper, “Should one die because of an ordinary woman?”
The other part of me becomes overwhelmed with palpitations, and a sudden descent into darkness. Not even the birth of our wonderful twins could temper my fears. The way you looked at our boys scared me because it reinforced the feeling that you may just have found contentment outside us.
Fadérẹra, I’ll never forget the way you scolded my insolent sister, Oyewumi, when she came to our place to cause a scene about me not sending enough money to Mama in the village.
Oozing pure contempt and utter disrespect, she screamed, “you’d rather fantasize about war stories than hustle like a real man… do you think big English will keep your family alive?”.
While I remained dazed about the situation, you walked her out of our flat, telling her to “go wash her mouth with “proper manners paste” before coming back”. I remember teasing you later about your new invention of a behaviour-altering toothpaste. You only responded with that signature self-effacing smile of yours. That incident only confirmed my belief about you being the protector of my dignity.
When the letter about my new posting to the war zones in Angola and Mozambique was delivered to our house on the 14th of February 1983, you showed little joy. You even cancelled our Valentine’s Day dinner plans at the new Chinese restaurant in town. I was befuddled, Fadérẹra, considering that you were the same person that filled the questionnaire and included all my details in the application form for this job. It was you, Fadérẹra, who personally posted these documents to the agency. Your reason for this was that you felt I’d sabotage myself by neglecting to post the documents due to my depressing disposition, a result of many rejections.
Not the money, benefits or the possibility of fame moved you.
You kept asking, “What would happen to the twins if you get killed?”
You cried every single day until I finally left for the airport on the 27th of May 1983. You sat still, gazing into the blank space like a woman who was about to bury her husband. I was hurt, and I cried all the way to the airport. Only our boys cried for me to stay. Maybe they only cried because I had to leave on the day they turned one. I miss them every day. I miss you too, Fadérẹra.
Fadérẹra, my experiences at the war fronts of Angola and Mozambique have taught me hard lessons. I have seen and done things that the mouth dare not reveal. War has a unique way of totally revealing self to self. It pushes limits, and eliminates grey areas. I know now how death smells. I’m not talking of the smell of decomposed dead bodies. I mean the smell of the naked fear that precedes the loss of life, the smell that escapes with the last gasps of a body that is about to pass over to the other side. I have lost count of the number of ambushes that I have survived.
Comrade Joachim, the leader of the MPLA unit that I’m attached to, thinks that I have talismanic powers. He says that the fact that the unit suffers fewer casualties anytime I’m around is beyond ordinary eyes. He now calls me “O Comandante”. When I had to go to Mozambique for about three months, the MPLA unit I left behind was hit so badly, wiping out half of the combatants that I have grown so close to. This further cemented Joachim’s stance. Perhaps this “talisman” is more about your prayers for my safety than anything else. I hope so.
Of all the members of the unit killed by opposition forces, Eduardo’s death saddened me the most. Eduardo couldn’t have been more than 23. He was a pleasant and optimistic combatant. He told me of his plans to engage in the development of the educational sector in Angola after the war. He promised to recruit me into his government someday because he thought I was a fast learner, having grasped Portuguese in a short space of time.
When I showed him your picture, he exclaimed: “Camarada, ela é tão bonita!” He said only a mad man would leave a woman like you behind to chase wars. He’d always call you “War’s Wife”.
“War’s wife?”, I once rhetorically asked, but Eduardo only answered with a mischievous grin.
Fadérẹra, I have a confession to make. I have fallen in love with another woman. Her name is Amilna, a Portuguese war correspondent I met in Luanda. We’ve both travelled together with combatants, experienced the pangs of war, wandered in the thick forest for days without food, and shared intimate moments. Our bond has been thickened by the uncertainties of war, with every survival of fatalistic moments pushing us more into an unbreakable union. Amilna is now pregnant with our child.
Fadérẹra, this is one situation I never thought I’d find myself in. Dying in the war front was what I imagined would be the greatest betrayal. This situation also feels like death as I have become resolute about closing the chapter of our love. I have chosen not to return to Nigeria, at least in the nearest future, as I don’t know how to face you or the twins. I have rather decided to move to Lisbon with Amilna.
Amilna’s agency has agreed to give me a desk job in the English section. I have no idea what the future holds for Amilna and myself but I know that if the trauma of war did little to shake us, nothing else can. Perhaps it’s my naiveté talking.
Fadérẹra, I think Eduardo was right after all. Unbeknown to you, you have all this while been married not to me, but my obsessive attachment to war. Yes, you will find someone that will make you happy but the thoughts of how war has flung me to the unknown will be a constant reminder. I hope fate will grant me the opportunity to one day explain my transgressions to you and the twins.
I have to go now, Fadérẹra. There are few things to tidy up before we leave for Lisbon. I have instructed the agency to pay some money into your account. I hope you’ll accept it.
I’m sorry Fadérẹra. I’m really sorry.
Babatunde Fagbayibo is originally from Nigeria but currently resides in Pretoria, where he works as a law teacher. He has keen interest in African affairs, and was named in 2014 by the Young People in International Affairs (YPIA) as one of the top 35 Africans under the age of 35. He has written a number of poems and short stories. His poems have been published in both web and print anthologies. These include Jalada, Absolute Africa, Aerodrome, Vox Poetica, Kalahari Review, African Writers, Nigeria LitMag, Litnet and others. He can be followed on Twitter @babsfagbayibo