I often wonder what my life would have been like, if I could peek at another other than this one I have. I wonder whether it’s really possible to create your own destiny as commonly said,or is it all just a load of rubbish?

They say that if one wished hard enough for something that it may just come true right? How come it is that I always wake up in this crazy wonderful circus that is my life?

The most wonderful thing happened to me a few years back; I finally got married! After living in sin for 18 years and 7 awesome kids to show for it, we finally did it right. This involved a long aged tradition of IGBANKWU….Wine Carrying in English, and yes! You literally really do carry the wine.

In my culture, it’s the big Kahuna of all ceremonies in the nuptial department that is. What took us so long you ask? It’s a really long story but I will try to sum it up. The spiritual part of me sums it up to fate, because no body would consciously make the choice to subject themselves and their loved ones to the ridicule and insults we eventually began to receive. There are consequences when a man fails to honor traditions, especially in a family such as as mine.

Life has a funny way of switching on you, and you soon begin to understand that there’s something bigger than you here in control. Circumstances and situations beyond your control force and make you realize and acknowledge that you really have no choices but to heed where it leads. We went from being the respectable couple one minute, to the disgrace of the family, back in my home town. After many years of waiting and 7 children later, the situation had become scandalous and the whispers of “alu emee” was a little too much to stomach. The final straw was when an elderly uncle referred to our kids as “UMU IGBO” , we knew we had to help my poor mother save face……something had to be done and quickly.

Now we come to the fun part…..as this grand decision was being made, the couple in question being “us”, were on ground zero in the finance department. As mentioned earlier, fate is a great decider of things but before I reveal just how we managed to pull this off, I will take you back some years……a decade and some years to be exact. This will help you get better acquainted with me and my wonderful world.

I grew up with my husband Tobe, we went to high school together. After graduating, I left Nigeria for the U.S. I was 16 , naive and full of the most awesome dreams. I settled into life in the U.S. easily because I had siblings already here, and university was fun. A year in Texas was all I could handle and as soon as I was able to convince my older sisters about moving to New York City,  I moved in with my uncle in the fall of 1987. New York was everything I had expected it to be, and I soon  enrolled in Fordham College, got a part time job in a restaurant in Manhattan and my life was traveling between the Bronx where we lived and work in Manhattan.

Life was good, my uncle was the best and I loved living in the Bronx. The diverse cultural mixture was what did it for me….we had Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Africans, West Indians and every other race. I was enjoying both work and school and thought  what a great decision I had made coming here, when that thing Fate….came calling again. A family member blew into town and I had to leave town quickly again…this woman was trouble with a capital T.

Thanks to my uncle and the little money I had managed to save, I got a cheap fare on Delta Airlines, called the midnight express back in the day; and found myself back in Houston again; after just two semesters of school.

Things had changed in Houston; my sisters had moved into a smaller apartment so I had to share a room with my older sister; and had to get a job. This meant I stopped school for some time. In a way I was glad really, I had never really been big on institutionalized learning…..long story. I got work in Target and had to catch the metro which was not good at all. A beggar has no choice so I got with the program .I had not been in touch with my life or friends back home for almost two years and I often wondered what became  of them, especially Tobe.

One day I got a call in the evening and the static was so bad, I immediately knew it was a call from home and as I strained to make sense of what was being said to me, I soon realized that it was Tobe, my dear friend whom I had been wondering about just a few days earlier. We reminisced and after catching up on old times, I then found out that he too left the country for London a year after me, working and schooling as well.

We talked for along time and though it was emotional, I was still glad to hear  from him; I had forgotten how smitten he had been with me all those years ago. I used to always laugh at him and ask “what exactly could you possibly know about love” and he would look so sad and wounded……that look would always haunt me later in the night and I would feel bad for causing him pain.

To say that reconnecting with Tobe was something good would be an understatement, it was great! Soon it was as though we never even left the country or parted ways. Back then telecommunication was an expensive venture, and we both spent plenty money on it. We talked about everything, love, God, Religion, abuse, politics, sex…etc you name it, we talked about it. Everything was as before and we each carried on with our lives. Tobe was my best friend….he was the one I called when I had good news, and the one for the not so good. Even though my sisters had not met him, they felt like they already knew him….God knows they talked to him enough!

Houston also started being good to me……I got a nice boyfriend who simply adored  me. and Tobe initially silent when I told him about Pete, after some time was back to his usual self again. He would even advise me when Pete and I had a fight, and they got to know each other over the phone.

Pete was my first love and soon after my 20th birthday, he became my first lover. As always, fate had another plan for me and it came in the way of me falling pregnant not too long after sex began. My perfect world  came crashing down all over again. At first I was frightened, and gradually my fears turned to curiosity. I spent about four and  a half months on the curiosity boulevard before moving on to anxiety close. At this time, I was putting on a little weight and my sisters commented on it……it was then that I told them. They must have cried for days….they were both terrified at what our father’s reaction would be.

You don’t get pregnant where we come from…..at least not until you graduate and marry; they could not understand how I managed to remain so calm. You see, I had done my own share of the crying thing and was all cried out! I knew they would eventually get over it as I did. The strange thing was that I never for once thought about termination….in fact, I found out I was pregnant after just 3 and a half weeks. I told my loving boy friend and he immediately developed a phobia for babies….he was scared to death about becoming a father. I told him it was okay, I will do this on my own then, just feel free to jump right in anytime you want I teased trying to make him laugh. I failed woefully at that, well the short version was we had to go our separate ways.

Life was not too cool after that, at about 7 months I really began to show and all the fun stopped. The rest of the months was used to prepare for my child and on the 15th of mach 1990 at exactly 1:05 pm, my son Timothy was born at a healthy weight of 8lbs 9 ounces. All was not as Rosy as I write mind you…my father did find out, almost threw my mum out of the house(as you all know that the bad stuff is usually the mothers influence right…) I was told to ask my mum where I came from because it was obvious I was not his child.
I took it all in stride but made sure he was equally as frustrated as I was, so I always came back with an equally spiteful response. I told him that I knew for a fact that he was my dad because all his people claim that I am the spitting image of his mom.

We had our war of words for about 3 months and needless to say that my topic fully occupied the gossips of my very extended family whilst the cowards amongst them still pretended and came to visit me and my son.
My so called friends here in Houston gradually pulled away from me, we had nothing in common any longer and as painful as all of this was, I still managed to hold my head up. My sisters were incredible….they were tireless in their efforts and they were mothers to Timothy along with me. Between us we had no clue what to to ,but we winged it as we went along.

My father cut me off completely, no tuition money was sent to me any longer and I had to put my baby in daycare at 8 weeks, and went back to work. This new life was becoming too much for us to handle, and my poor baby was also suffering; I knew my only option was to ask my mother to take him, and she said “yes” when I eventually did. It was against my fathers wishes, but all she said was “let me see how he’ll throw away his own grandson” She was right, the stubborn old man could not complain, but he did his best to stay away from Timothy I was later told.

The next three years were the most miserable of my life, I missed my baby so much and there was an empty void that I need to fill desperately; only having him back with me would do that. I finished school, got my degree and went on to take several jobs along the way. I was a cook, housekeeper, gardener, English tutor and a catalogue model at one time. That was a good period for us…the money was infrequent as the work,but when it did come it was very good.

Tobe and I kept communicating and it was during one conversation with him that he said something that changed my life….he said ‘if you miss your baby so much Maya,why don’t you work with children? that way you can still feel a part of him with you”

At first I paused and thought how silly is that? That would make me miss him more….but later that night in bed, the more I thought about Tobe’s comment, the more sense I made of it. That is one thing I can honestly tell you that calmed my spirit. As I started the daycare work, I became happier with each new day. I saw Timothy in every child there, and I showered them all with all the love I had reserved for my baby.

Life suddenly seemed worth living again, my sisters graduated as well and started better jobs, and I made the frequent call to Nigeria and my son was growing gradually. I also found out that my father was also beginning to take to him….they said he had no choice; Timothy would crawl to his bedroom door and sit there most times and he would have no choice but pick him up in other to get in the room. My poor mother would be commanded to come take “this child”…and she would smile secretly as she saw his defenses gradually weakening..

I continued work at the daycare, some days better than others, one day I was very low in spirit and a colleague said I had a call. Thinking it was one of my sisters I immediately broke down and began to say how unhappy I had become lately and that it was not making it any better anymore being surrounded by children whilst mine was hundreds of miles away. When I stopped talking was when it dawned on me that I was not speaking to either of my sisters, but Tobe. He was very kind to me and after much pleading that I stop crying, he asked if I wanted to come to London. To do what I asked slightly irritated. Well….you’ll be nearer to him for one, and you can bring him here.

You have lost your mind I remember replying, and how exactly are I going to pull this off? I finally have my green card in the U.S., why would I want to go through the hell of another immigration problem? Besides, I had help here and could not make it, how do you think London would be any better?

I will marry you he said ….for the papers and I will help you. I was speechless! That was typical of Tobe, but I could not put this all on him. I said no! And we went on to discuss it further; work mates began to fidget because I had been on the phone for long, so I said I would call him when I got home. I never did, but I did mention it to my sisters and they agreed with me that it was unfair to allow him do that.

I was all ready to let him know that I could not do it and so I was going to call him that weekend to let him know, but to my surprise, he called and asked if there was anywhere I could receive a fax and I told him where. He faxed me an invitation and had also located the British High Commission in Houston.

He told me to let him do this for me, that he felt compelled to and would not take no for an answer; so I finally agreed to go to the meeting at the British High Commission. Two weeks later I was on a flight to London and I was both excited and apprehensive about the whole thing.

We soon got into the U.K. and after immigration and customs, I finally came into the arrivals hall and there was Tobe. He had not changed at all…still had the smiling eyes and face and still ever so jovial. We hugged and screamed and as would people in airports, we were stared at for a while but people soon got on with their business.

He had borrowed a friends car to get me and we talked all through the hour or so drive to his north London bedsit. The geographically and cultural changes were amazing…I was coming from Texas where everything was bigger….from the cars, to roads and even the people. London seemed like Lilliput, everything was small and awkward, Tobe reassured me that I would get used to it.

I stole glances at him and caught him several times stealing looks at me as well. He said I had not changed either, a little bigger….child birth put me up to a size 8, life! We finally got to the house and the average sized room which he rented from a young Pakistani family was to be our home for the next 7 months, and as planned, we got married at the council registry the following week of my arrival to the country. I got a really great job at Harvey Nicks, an up market department store in the West End and Tobe continued with his managerial work at a local fast food.

We had so much fun living together, and I was able to call home more frequently and find out all I could about Timothy and his development. Our relationship was loving but platonic and I would be a liar if I said I did not know how sweet on me Tobe was. The problem was that I had always loved him as a brother, I felt no sexual attraction for him.

Tobe was my rock…he displayed an amazing strength in character that I had not seen in a long time from a man, and he was dependable. He had the ability to disagree with me without being offensive and even when the situation had been abrasive,he always found a dignified way to make his point without coming across as condescending. We played, we rowed and as friends we made up. Life was good and as time passed, our relationship began to shift. The hugs lasted longer, and then came the horseplay and kisses.

A courtship began that I really can not find the right words to articulate, but the inevitable eventually happened, we became lovers. Now my Timothy was almost 5 and I soon found out that I was expecting again. Within the years of my moving to London and marrying Tobe, my father died. We made our peace before he did,and I went home and got my son to London to live with us.

We moved out the summer of 1996 and our son Christopher was born in our new 3 bedroom semi in West Hampstead. Tobe started to trade in the city and he was very good at it and life gradually continued to upgrade to better levels. Me?…well what can I tell you, I was a stay at home mom. We had 5 more children, altogether,5 boys and two girls (twins) Hope and  Faith. The other boys are Micheal, Joshua and David, our last child.

Well that’s the best way I know how to bring you up to date with things, the kids were great, and our life was chaotic. It was football, Cricket, tennis and more football. I was the original soccer mom and the house was a regular hang out for the kids in the neighborhood. All was going well until the fall of 2005 when the markets were bad and Tobe lost…..he lost really big, and one by one we gradually lost almost everything; that’s how we got to that boulevard I was talking about earlier.

Tobe had taken one last gamble with the last of our savings, hoping to triple the investment,but as fate would have it, that too was lost. We were at our lowest but in all we managed to keep our spirits up. Thank God for good family and friends, we had nothing, but we never lacked. God was awesome and his graces kept pouring in from everywhere.

The hope for the marriage was gone and that was when fate decided to give us one final surprise. My sisters decided that they would loan him the money….it was the only way Tobe would agree to it, but an old friend who we had helped many years ago had suddenly come into a lot of money and would you know that he out of nowhere remembered us, and gave us a gift. On that day, I cooked the most delicious onugbu soup. He was an Nnewi man, and onugbu soup I knew how to cook well, so……

The visit was long and wonderful, and also really great to meet his Scottish wife and 4 beautiful daughters; when the clearing up was done and the kid s finally settled for the night, I limped upstairs to soak in a hot bath. I almost jumped out of my skin when I heard Tobe scream…… Oh my God!. what was wrong now? Luckily the children were all sleeping except for Timothy. who rushed out of the room the same time as me and we ran downstairs. Tobe was sitting on the sofa his head in his hands looking up repeatedly saying oh Father, oh Father……..

Baby what is it? I asked……what’s the matter? He simply handed me a paper….it was a cheque from Ekene his friend. I looked at it and caught my breath….this can not be……. my eyes were certainly playing tricks on me; but was Tobe’s also? Ekene had given us twenty five thousand pounds!

Oh my gosh! Timothy exclaimed, mom that’s a lot of money!.This God!…oh this God! was all I could chant. All we had done was house this man when he came newly from Nigeria and Tobe through his old colleagues from the restaurant days had found him work. He lived with us for 8 months and at that time we had only 3 children . Just food and shelter and people to talk to. He was a good house guest. He shared with Timothy whilst the other two slept together. Half the time Ekene was gone, he worked like a donkey and it was through that job in Harvester, that he met his wife.

Fate had indeed been sneaky and kind…who would have thought that we would have such benefactors in the first place, and why now when all hope seemed to have gone?

We called them immediately and expressed our gratitude, he hushed us up. No…he said, I wish I could do more. No amount of money can ever equate what you two did in my life. You gave me a family while mine was too far away, and I never felt like a guest in your home. Thank you for showing me the face of love. I vowed that if I ever became something in my life, that I would find you and let you know how you changed my life. Wow….his words were too much to take in, we always wondered about him after we lost touch, we never knew we had made such an impact on him.

Timothy was deliriously excited, he was almost 16 and had a list so long of all the electronics he had his heart on……Christmas had come early.

My sisters had already given the 2 million in Naira and had bought both our tickets, so this 25 grand was just God’s way of saying…..”see….I got your backs!”

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