I finally got my wedding photo book today. Gracious goodness! My dear husband and I look absolutely breathtaking in the pictures. TY Bamidele is a fantastic photographer, the best there is. Tawa did my makeup and I was screaming at my vision in the mirror on the day of the wedding. My dream and reality met in one glance at the magic of a mirror. The art of makeup is something else these days though; you could choose to look like anyone you want.
I’m in a different phase of life, a world I never imagined. To think that I have lived the way I have and had all the experiences I’ve gained in such a short time; a blessing I tell you. I am a transformed and fearless woman. What I do now is to give people lifelines and build them up. Who would have thought that giving could be so rewarding? I now see why successful people proudly add to their titles ‘Philanthropist’. They get richer and richer. You truly gain more when you give. My investment portfolio is proving this principle and money is not even my focus.
Looking back once in a while was important. You get to appreciate your life more. Four months ago, I had to make the decision of my life; to choose one man that I would build the rest of my life with. I had two men fighting for my hand as they say; it was a battle of mind, spirit, and everything for all parties involved. Even my very intuitive mother was wavering in her guidance to me. It was up to me to decide; I was the one to lie on whichever bed I chose.
Let me tell you my story. I met Victor Emeka Orji during my youth service. I served at the firm of Busari and Giwa. He was an equity partner at the firm. We first connected as friends and nothing more. His life seemed dull to me; too serious. I was a boisterous person and my personality was strong; domineering and iron-willed. I saw myself as a force to reckon with; a tomboy with spunk.
After Youth service year, I moved on to work as a copyrighter after taking some courses at the Green Academy in Maryland. I wanted to explore my creative side. Victor moved with me; not physically, emotionally. He was always there when I got out of work, and he always had something for me; a purse, sticks of suya, barbecue and fries, fish for my mother, flash drive, anything. I decided to date him just because he was persistent and I was very much used to having him around. He grew on me and I started to like him. In his gentle way, he broke down my defenses and got me to say the yes word to his very predictable marriage proposal, totally lacking in luster I tell you. When I told my mother that he did not excite me, she hissed and said “Stella, Nwa m nwanyi iga ghi enwe ihe nile. As long as you have 80% you can settle.”
“Settle? I don’t like that word. I am even having second thoughts. I don’t know why I agreed to marry him.” I was frank with her.
“Nwa ega egbum. You better hold on to what you have or you would regret it.”
I did not respond as I wanted to get off the phone. My mother and I were always at loggerheads; one wrong sentence and we were going back and forth like Bingo and Meow; the local dog and cat.
As I was saying, my mindset changed months down the line. My life changed and Victor was at the center of it.
One morning, my pompous self was rushing to the office. With thirty minutes behind schedule, I drove fast from my little house at Dolphin Estate to Ikeja. I was pushing the 140 mark on my speedometer; the thrill of speed excited me always. I was not the best of drivers; in fact I should count myself one of the worst because I liked to intimidate people especially men while driving. That day was not a special day for me to act different. I drove with reckless abandon. I was confident in my ability to handle my car and utilize its capabilities.
As I sped past some old rickety cars and buses along the way, I took delight in running past men drivers. Victor had called me up on this before but I shut him down quickly. He never brought it up again. He never liked to argue; silence was his preferred treatment and I was always game to reciprocate.
Before I could fathom it, a few things happened that impacted my life forever. I found myself standing by the parapet of the Third Mainland Bridge. Holding unto the glimmering barrier rail, I prayed and screamed with the rest of Lagos as we watched the plunged car sinking. Ilaje Fishermen on their wooden watercrafts, canoeing to fish, jumped into the murky waters.
I was numb like Ice from the north pole.
“Don’t let her go. She was the one that ran him off the road.” Someone shouted behind me.
People stood on the great divide between the two-way bridge taking pictures, recording videos, narrating the occurrence and analyzing the situation. The Third mainland was on a shutdown not by the road maintenance agencies but by people who stopped to watch the current rescue effort. LASEMA response unit in coordination with the Nigerian police were actively working to coordinate rescue efforts.
The fishermen were able to get the victim out. They were first responders to whom I would forever be grateful in my heart.
What had happened was that a man’s car flipped over into the water after hitting the parapet. I admit that I intimidated him and our cars were close at some point but they never touched during or after the accident. One of my accusers had cracked my windscreen in anger otherwise my car was without dent. If I were a bystander, I would have said it was action movie material or think that something very ‘Juju-like’ happened. I was looking at manslaughter at the least if the accident could be pinned on me. LASEMA was set up; massive yellow machineries on the scene taking orders from men.
The fishermen were able to get the man out of the water and LASEMA took over the operations. The man, later identified as 65 year old Kolawole Amodu, was rescued alive.
I called Victor to inform him of my predicament; he listened and promised to call back. Police officers interrogated me and locked me up in a cell around Batiga police station. My Father and Victor showed up. It was obviously payday for the police officers. The courts could be avoided if my family bribed them with a ‘settlement’. The victim’s family was also to be compensated, the officers informed my family. Even though my income was fair and could maintain my living in a boy’s quarters at Dolphin Estate, I could not afford the ‘settlement’ all at once. Victor and my Dad coughed up three hundred thousand Naira cash at once. They had negotiated from 1.5 million naira settlement to N300,000. We had to visit the victim’s family to find out how it would all play out.
I was grateful to be home the next day. My mother clamped down on me; all my faults and bad actions confirmed and unconfirmed, she laid them all before me and chastised me.
“Your mates are settling down while you are going about trying to act like a man. See where it has gotten you to? Stella! You talk to people anyhow; you challenge everybody and want to shove your opinions about. See where it has gotten you to. A gwa nti ma o nughi, e bere isi, nti esobe ya. Take this experience and hold it to your heart. Let it be a turning point for you.”
When life happens, you have to brace up or the weight can pull you down. I wished I could say that I had a great safety net in my family during that situation but I felt that this was their opportunity to say to me all that had been inside of them. With a lot of negative vibes coming my way in my father’s house, a retreat to my little crib at Dolphin was the only way to go.
Forty Eight hours after the news hit, I was at the center of the news along with the victim; a bad stroke of fate. Bloggers like Amanda Nkemji, 247hubs, Omoregie carried news about the reckless girl who drove the man off the road. ‘Friends’ were quoted saying that I was pompous and vengeful and I deserved to be punished for this. People who had never heard of me before then passed judgments on my life. I, Stella Ike, was trending on the Nigerian twitter space. My world as I knew it was turning upside down.
In four days after the accident, I had lost my friends, my job and it was unsafe for me to be at Dolphin so I had to move back home to an equally unaccommodating environment. My Dad was the only one who shared my burden.
“News like this would fade. In a month, no one would remember,” he pacified and hugged me. My reputation was damaged though.
Attempts to see the man, Kolawole Amodu as the media identified, had proven abortive. One day, without my Dad and Victor around, I drove to the hospital. I was able to meet the family. Interestingly they did not know who I was and had admitted me into the private ward before I introduced myself.
I found out that the man had been battling with depression since he retired from active duty. The wife and children knew that he suffered from it but tried to cover it up and address it privately at home. The man himself confirmed that he tried to end his life at that moment.
“I could not bear it any longer. Challenging me on the road was the last straw,” he had muttered quietly during my visit. His Son promised that he would do what he could to let the world know about his suicide attempt which would vindicate me but nothing was done. For the first time in my life, I was unsure of myself. My self-confidence, built like a strong red bricks, came crashing down like a bad building structure prone to collapse. I cried like I was 4 years old.
When I got home, I shared the news with everyone minus the part were ‘I was the last straw’. My father was elated and my mother and siblings breath a sign of relief. I called Victor and he said that he was happy for me but that we needed to talk.
I met him at a Café de Viande Restaurant in Ikeja. He asked me to come with my car as he was very busy that day.
That he was upset about the whole situation was an understatement. “Stella, I will be frank with you. Your recklessness has gone out of hand. I always thought that your exuberance was something you would outgrow but I can see that I am mistaken. A man almost died because of this. I keep asking myself if this is the kind of woman I want to spend my life with.” he spewed his anger at me for the first time. He was not one to talk much around me. My normal self would have argued with him and get him to submission point but I kept quiet and listened to him for the first time. I heard things he said and things he did not say.
“I am sorry, Victor. Truly sorry,” I whispered. Victor looked taken aback. Of course the real Stella would never have apologized.
“I am sorry too. I think that we need to put the wedding on pause for now. This matter must die down so that nothing mars the wedding.” he was uncomfortable as he spoke and he did not meet my eyes. He never met my eyes in a confrontation before and it had not changed.
“Okay,” I responded feebly. What I had heard was that the wedding was cancelled and not postponed. It was written in his demeanor and the way he walked away from me; he never looked back.
My heart was broken but it shattered when my mother gave me dirty slap as I gave her and Dad the news.
“Victor called the wedding off.” I had said, point blank and Mother went Ballistic. “A gwara m gi agwa. I warned you, Stella.”
I figured she had a right to be mad; mothers always have rights to have their own desires after they have invested heavily in their children.
I woke up one morning on the suicide path. I was empathetic for the first time to Mr. Amodu who tried to take his life. I was depressed. It weighed heavily on me, my heart in my stomach, my throat constricted, my mind filled with dread, and even death.
By 7pm that day, third Mainland Bridge was the only place I could go. I crossed over and stood by the same barrier rail where I looked down at the empty and dark water. It was dark and dreary and not a person about or so I thought. I contemplated. Should I jump over? It would be quick. I would suffer but if I held my breath it would be faster.
“Hey! Hey! Hey!” a voice shouted behind me, the voice very raspy and annoyed.
“You want to die?” he shouted. I did not respond. More like him gathered.
“Rosco, pull am here make I waste am. If she wan die, make I do my own first,” one of them demanded and the others agreed hoping for a share of their turn to. I guess they were talking about rape and how they would tosh my body into the water when they were done. I was confused; my state of mind in shambles.
“Leave am, Pumping. We no go touch this one. Enter your car and go back home. Aiye o le to yen! If me as I stand here I no jump, no body suppose jump inside. Go home. When you remember me, pray for Rosco, you hear?”
Rosco, scruffy looking and stinking pushed me across the road as he shielded me away from the others. I was able to get into my car and I sped off.
Rosco, area boy, high on crack, was my angel in shining amour. The moment he pushed me across the road, I had felt a jolt of energy go through my body. This was another significant moment in my life; so unforgettable; so impactful.
To be Continued!
Nwa ega egbum – This child, you will not kill me
A gwara m gi agwa – I warned you
Nwa m nwanyi iga ghi enwe ihe nile – My Daughter, you cannot have everything
A gwa nti ma o nughi, e bere isi, nti esobe ya – A word is sufficient for the wise (If you tell the hear and it doesn’t listen, when they cut the head the ear will follow)