I stood there too shocked to give Tuvi an answer.. He’d just asked me to marry him, MARRIAGE!!! Tuvi and I met barely two months ago most of which I spent ignoring him while I fantasized about him making sweet love to me. But that wasn’t the point now, he wanted me to be the mother of his children, his Salamander, even though I still wonder why he chose to use the word ” Salamander” aniways he wanted so much from me and I just couldn’t be all those things, I needed time. Saying no to him was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, he looked so vulnerable. I told him I couldn’t and the best excuse I could let out, of all the million and one reasons I had was the repulsive “its not you, its me” spiel. I drove home that night in tears concluding I was one of the one in five black women destined to end up alone. My case a little bit spiced up with me having over fifteen cats and various collections of Russian nesting Dolls to keep me company when I’m old and grey.
Once, when I was ten, Molly and I went with my mum to the beach. It was on one of those rare occasions when she had the time to cater to us, so we were both excited as the prospect of having fun with her. Molly was an excellent swimmer so she loved the beach even more. She was older by two years but we always did everything as twins. It was probably because I was super smart in school so I caught up early and we’d been in the same class for a while now. While we were playing, I stumbled on a glass seashell. It was very beautiful and I knew it would look even more gorgeous framed somewhere in my room. I hurried off to find a bucket to scoop it up in. As I returned, I saw Molly rubbing gently on my seashell. She had found it and dug it up. I told her to hand it over! It was mine. I had found it first after all. She refused saying she found it first. Adamantly, I refused to let this go. Molly was my best friend, and had a knack for having her way and I was going to draw the line here. I made for the seashell and she resisted. We started to tussle, each fighting hard to claim this price. My mother who had previously been on a reclining chair was now behind us, watching our dance of superiority. She told us to stop and took the seashell from us. I thought, mum will most definitely solve this. She’ll give it to me. She turned towards the waves and threw the seashell as hard as she could without saying a word into the water way beyond our reach. To this day, she never told us why she did that but now, she doesn’t need to either. Right now, in this dance of superiority between these men in my life, I’m that seashell.
After I turned Tuvi down that night, I called Molly. She had been living in Port Harcourt for two years now with her husband Tonye, the oil executive. They loved each other deeply and started off as high school sweethearts. Theirs was a love story I longed for and tried to model, with less success obviously. I got with Chukwudi in the first place to have what I envied in my bestie, the security of having a man to call mine. I really was that naïve at that time. I cried with Molly on the phone, talking to her about my dilemma, about Tuvi, about how both men made me feel. She was coming down to Abuja to help me out. I needed her to. She had always harped on the benefits of independence. I never took heed because in my opinion, she had that self-assurance because she was in a solid relationship that had been tested and trusted. I just wanted my best friend here with me. She always knew what to do.
In the time it took Molly to get to Abuja from Port Harcourt, I decided to do some soul searching of my own. I was to meet my 15 year old protégé for dinner as lunch was out of the question. She was in SS1 and didn’t get out of school till about 2. The dinner meeting was at her family home, with her parents and younger siblings present. Basically, I was going to have dinner with the family and then pitch my idea of a new deal to her and her parents at the table. How not fun.
Hauwa was an amazing 15 year old. As soon as she saw my car pull up to the driveway, she walked out of the house to meet me. We exchanged pleasantries and she complimented my outfit and my hair, mentioning that her dad made her cut hers so she could concentrate in school and that she couldn’t wait for college so she could grow hers out like mine. I found that funny because I did start to grow my hair out in college, a brutal six years of the natural look therapy. She talked about her friends, the inspiration for her books, her imaginative processes, what it was like to have a Catholic for a father and a Muslim mother. I did not solicit this chain of conversation but I was glad to be involved in them. She talked about what she wanted to do as an author, the awards she was most interested in winning and who her inspirations were. After introducing me to her parents and siblings she invited me to her room upstairs as her dad prepared the table for dinner. He was the better cook and his wife, Hauwa’s mother is so proud of his skills that she ‘unleashes’ him whenever the family had guests; a task he grabs with open arms and hands clasping a spoon and spatula.
In her room, we got talking about school. She asked me what my secondary school experiences were, how I dealt with peer pressure and boys. She ventured to say that she knew I was one of the popular girls. She then wished she was popular. She wrote under an alias so nobody in school knew she was a bestselling author. Again her parents insisted on it, to give her the semblance of a normal life. Smart parents. So, here I was talking to this normal 15 year old with all the problems and quirks I had at that age and with all the insecurities and an even greater pressure to succeed that I did at that age. The only thing I was ‘bestselling’ at was my skill at jumping into a moving bus on my way back home after school. I found myself giving her advice on the dos and dont’s of the teenage years, how I navigated secondary school, and then college. I didn’t however broach conversations about boys. It seemed this household was strict and not like my liberal upbringing so my experiences in that regard would not compare. In all this time, not once did I get a chance to bring up the new deal.
After dinner, we sealed the deal. Her parents were happy with the new arrangements and we had Hauwa on board. I felt good. This was a big win for the firm and for me. As I stood to leave, I remembered what I was going home to and I got sad again. It’d been such a good day with this family, I didn’t want to leave. Outside, Hauwa stopped me before I got in my car. She thanked me for showing up in person today. She then reiterated that she meant what she said when she told me I was amazing. She had googled me and then started to tell me all she found out about me and the things I had accomplished before making senior partner at the firm. I was impressed with what she knew, I had forgotten I did some of that stuff. As she made for the front door of the family house she said, “Miss Allen, you’re the shit. I do want to be like you when I’m older”.
I kept thinking about that on my way home. I am the shit. I am a damn good seashell and I will survive in the water.