LOVE IS A RISK

It’s been twenty years now. But I still remember it vividly. As vividly as the night I broke my virginity. My dignity.

It was at the Central Cafeteria one cloudy Sunday afternoon. I had gone there to swallow a few spoonfuls of plain rice and wash it down with a bottle of soft drink. And that was where and when I saw her for the first time. The cafeteria was uncharacteristically empty; the semester was withering and the “wahala week” that preceded vacation turned every student, except a few “Dadabiis”, into an economist. That, perhaps, partly explained why the CC, which was usually fizzing with activities, was so empty.

I had barely finished placing an order when she entered and occupied another empty table.  Hers was three tables away from mine and I could have joined her, but that also meant I had to do what was gentlemanly. Unfortunately, however, I had very limited cash and could not afford to pay for what she would order. So I sat where I sat, cursing myself for not being prepared enough to utilize the rarest opportunity that ever came my way.

Soon, we were both at our meals. I had to display exaggerated table mannerisms in case she looked my direction. I wanted her to know that she had my attention but that ought to be professional. We ate in silence.

Outside the cafeteria, dark, sinister clouds were gathering. They were scudding hurriedly towards the back of Balme Library as if they had an emergency meeting there to attend. I hadn’t got much to do that day and so whether there was rain or no rain I didn’t care. All that I badly needed was God should answer my prayer. There would never be a better opportunity for me to interact with that Princess of Beauty than the two of us being trapped inside the almost empty cafeteria by the rain. And who says God doesn’t answer silent prayers? At least I remembered that no sound parted Hannah’s lips at Shiloh, but God heard her and gave her Samuel. On this day, too, God heard me pray in my heart and He opened the flood gates of heaven. It rained elephants and hippos, for cats and dogs are too tiny to fit the description of the heavy torrent that poured as if God had emptied all water reservoirs in heaven.

After the meal I waited patiently till the waiter had come for what each of us owed before I moved over to her table a few minutes later. It was clear the rain was not stopping any moment soon and I could not be said to be an intruder, for she alone sat, starring thoughtfully and vacantly at the far end of the cafeteria.

She welcomed me with a genial smile and introductions proceeded. The usual fumbling and unrehearsed silly comments from my side followed. I had to reflect on activities of the day later that night to realize how some unsolicited words and unguarded comments had escaped from my quavering lips. But was I to blame? Show me a person in love and let me tell you who the world’s stupidest fool is.

I got steadier as the conversation progressed. We discussed every available subject under the sun, except the real reason for which I wanted to be so close to her – love.

Dulcie, for that was her name, was a lady to behold. Her kind of beauty defies description. Perhaps, King Solomon’s Songs of Songs can attempt a description. It is, in fact, an understatement to say that she was beautiful. This imposing beauty, together with her learned contributions to our discussion, made her presence pleasantly intimidating. I greatly admire beautiful ladies. But brainy ladies, I worship. And Dulcie possessed a rare combination of both qualities.

At the end of the day I managed to strike an acquaintance with her and went home with what was later to become the most important phone number I had received. A lot went on: innumerable calls and text messages flew towards her and a few to me. We grew more and more intimate and I had to act fast upon learning that she was single and unattached. Wait for a roasted meat to cool before you eat it and it will cool in someone else’s mouth.

And that was beginning of the story.

She proposed the Central Cafeteria when I said I wanted to have a word with her. On the said date, I was there thirty minutes earlier to have my last rehearsal. Thought after thought came rushing through my turbid mind when it was time and she showed no sign of coming. She neither called to say she was caught up in traffic nor gave any form of excuse to show that she took our assignation seriously. I deliberately refused to call her in order to mask my restlessness.

It was fifteen minutes late and she still did not show up. Ke! Ke! Ke! Ke!, ticked the seconds hand of the clock that hung at the corner of the cafeteria where I anxiously pitched camp. It travelled as if it was being pursued. Thirty minutes was gone, and there still there was no clue whatsoever. Then I began to sweat profusely, like the bottle of chilled soft drink I was sipping with exaggerated mannerisms. Why don’t you call to find out why she is neither here nor called to give any excuse? This thought occurred to me and I obliged. But to my greatest shock, a male voice answered the phone.

“Do you want to speak to Dulcie?” the voice asked after I had identified myself.

“Yyy..yes!” I stammered, my heart tingling as if it had been caught with a hook, at which my tormentor was pulling hard. If you are in love with a lady, any male around her is a potential threat. A real enemy.

“I’m sorry she cannot speak to you now. She may explain later. Good day!” the voice said and hung up.

“Jesus, help me!” I heard myself say and, for a moment, my mind went blank. I heard nothing, saw nothing, felt nothing. When I later gained consciousness and decided to cool down my aching heart with a sip of the soft drink, it tasted bitter.

Why should she do this to me? What did she take me for? Why did she not at least call to cancel the appointment if she wouldn’t be able to honour it? But had she not told me she was single? Who was that idiotic son of a bitch who rudely said she could not speak to me?

There was no answer to any of the questions and the more I thought about it, the deeper I got hurt. I had no option but to leave. But before I left, I called again, just in case luck would smile at me.

“I’ve told you she cannot speak to you at the moment, haven’t I?” the same voice asked, this time a little impatient. “You may call later in the day,” the voice said when I my side of the line went dead. I was too shocked and embarrassed to utter a word.  Silently, in my heart, I cursed whoever was on the other end of my world, where my happiness and treasure and heart lay. The Bible is right after all: “Where your treasure is, there your heart is.”

I dejectedly retraced my steps home with a terribly bruised pride and a deflated ego. I had visited the best barber I knew and had donned my best outfit, all in an attempt to impress. The events of the day, however, made me wish I had never met her at all.

But in the evening, she surprised me with a call. The humiliation, disappointment and contempt that conspired to well up anger in me quickly caved in when I saw her name. With trembling hands, a palpitating heart and a foggy mind, I answered the call.

“I’m sorry I could not make it,” she apologized before I had time to remind her I had gone to wait. “I don’t think I can explain it to you on phone. If you wouldn’t mind, let’s meet tomorrow after church. Same venue. Will that be fine with you?”

“It surely will. I will be there,” I readily agreed and she called it a night. My hope was rekindled, but events of the day gave me much to think about. Why would a male pick her call? Who authorized him? And where were they? What was it that she could not explain on phone? Trying to find an answer to any of these questions sent my head throbbing like a set of Fontonfrom drums paying homage to Otumfuo at a grand durbar.

The night was longer than a century and I woke up many times. On each occasion I found the hands of the clock where they had been the last time I looked at the damn old clock.

The following day I went to church and sat through the service, but I heard nothing. The unusually long sermon was irritating and I bowed out when the presiding minister announced after the sermon that there was going to be the Lord’s Supper. It was fast approaching time I had scheduled to meet my love, and though I needed the hand of the Lord in my adventure, I could not afford to be late.

After exchanging formalities, I told Dulcie everything I thought about her and how I intended to spend the rest of my life with her if she gave me the chance.

“These days it’s extremely difficult to trust someone with your love, but give me a chance and I’ll show you the meaning of true love, Dulcie,” I concluded.

Then silence reigned for a few seconds.

It outlasted eternity.

When I stole a glance at her, she wore neither a smile nor a frown. Her face was clueless.

“I’m waiting, Dulcie,” I urged. “Tell me your mind. Just anything.”

“Before I say anything, I want you to take an oath,” she said after a deep sigh that made my heart miss a beat. I doubt if women know the power they wield over men when it comes to love. It is a kind of subduing power that is potent enough to melt the stony heart of the devil himself. If they knew, I’m sure those who give themselves away to be used and dumped would think and rethink.

“What I’m about to tell you is very personal and you must vow that it will forever remain a secret between the two of us,” she said with a kind of determination that showed that she meant every letter of every word she spoke.

“You know as a Christian, the Bible warns us never to swear but I don’t think I will ever tell anybody what you‘re about to tell me. May all the curses in Deuteronomy Chapter 28 come upon me if I ever mention it to any third party. Trust me, Dulcie.” I swore before I knew what I was doing. Love is intoxicating. In fact, the difference between a person in seriously in love and a mad person is thinner than the edge of a circumcision blade.

“Good! I have read Deuteronomy 28 before and know what is there. If you cannot tame your tongue in attempt to disgrace me, it will be between you and your God,” she said with a wicked smile.

“Have you ever asked yourself why a lady like me is still single?” she asked me.

“Frankly speaking it has crossed my mind but I’ve never given it is a serious consideration,” I lied.

“Hmm!” she sighed. “It’s a long story but I’ll keep it short. Not that I’m boasting, but I’m aware of my imposing looks, which naturally draw men to me. But I have a very repulsive disorder that has made it impossible for me to enter into any relationship for long. All the men I’ve dated could not stand it at one point or the other and that’s why I’m still single. In fact, I’m now fed up with men but I have known you for some time now and I like you. I however, think I must tell you from the very beginning and allow you to either accept or reject me for who I am.”

I sighed, more confused than ever.

“I’m epileptic!” she dropped the bombshell at last. I contorted my face in shock, for I could not mask it. But she ignored me and went ahead. “It is a very acute type and all attempts to find a cure have been very elusive. I must say there is no hospital or specialist I have not visited, both home and abroad. I have also visited all the miracle-working prayer camps and all the top Men of God in Africa, Europe and America. I have told my father that enough is enough. I’m now tired of probing the globe in search of a non-existent cure.

“This is the reason you still find me single. I suffered one of my worst convulsions yesterday at the time you called. My younger brother was the one who answered your call. I’m sorry I disappointed you but there was nothing I could do. If you still love me and can cope with it, I’m ready to give you my heart. But if you will back out like many others have done, please kindly allow me to bear my burden alone. I’m now tired of being used and dumped.”

I sat still, confused and speechless.

“I’ll give you a week to think about it,” she ended and looked quizzically at me as I fought in vain to mask the feeling of great disappointment written on my face.

Epileptic? Convulsion? No! The frog likes water but not when it is boiling. This was my immediate reaction. That came from my mind. But what would the heart say?

“Lest I forget,” she went on before I recovered to say anything. “I’ve learnt a great lesson from men in the past. Even if you make up your mind that we should go ahead, there will not be sex until the after the wedding. I have been used, dumped and humiliated by too many men,” she was becoming very emotional and her voice was choking. “They have taken advantage of my vulnerability. So for God’s sake I’m prepared to die single than to allow myself to be used and dumped again,” she said with tears filming her eyes. It was followed by sobbing.

I consoled her though I needed consolation myself. I had not bargained for this. It was beyond my wildest imagination.

I left the Central Cafeteria that Sunday afternoon feeling as if I was on a different planet. After telling the taxi driver where I was going, I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to go blank. I could not think. Or rather, I thought, but not with my mind. My heart, heavy with grief, did the thinking. I couldn’t believe that what was happening around me wasn’t a dream. I thought it was one those terrible dreams that one had and usually woke up to thank God for it not being true. But in my case, I had nothing to thank God for; everything was live and coloured as we said in those days when coloured television was still a luxury.

Acute epilepsy? Dulcie? Why? Why her? How could nature be so wicked? What crime had she committed? After undressing, I lay in bed, exhausted from a conspiracy between the previous night’s vigil and the day’s inexpressible grief and shock. I still refused to think. I focused my attention on nature’s wickedness. But for how long can man allow his mind to go blank? How possible is it? Even if it were, then it certainly was not in my case.

The first time I saw someone suffering from epilepsy was in my primary school days. The girl who sat next to me in the class one day fell when she was asked to stand up and answer a Mathematics question. As ignorant as we were about her health condition, we burst into laughter. It was a class of real naughty boys and girls and we never missed the opportunity to make fun of anybody who made the least mistake. Even we didn’t spare the teachers. I remember we once subjected our English Language teacher to such behavior when she slipped and fell one rainy Monday morning. But we had to pay dearly for it, for each member of the class received liberal lashes. But it didn’t take many days to forget that it was a bad habit to laugh at others. At least not at our own colleagues.

But this morning, our laughter was short-lived. The girl could not stand up and lay struggling on the floor, with her mouth foaming all over. I nearly fainted with fear when I got to the entrance of the classroom and realized that it was a survival of the fittest sort of thing, and those of us not who were not strong enough would have to wait for the stronger boys and girls to escape first. The girl had made a complete mess of herself when I turned to look at her again. It took the headmaster and some members of staff to explain to us that the girl was epileptic and that it wasn’t contagious. But there was no class that day.

I was traumatised and I could not get over it especially when the girl started school the following week. I started giving excuse after excuse why I would not go to school, and when it became so clear that none of the excuses I gave was genuine, I confessed to my father. I told him there was no way I could concentrate with that girl still in class. My father sent me see a psychologist who did all he could but it was to no avail. Finally, I left that school for another but I could not get over that childhood trauma. So when Dulcie mentioned it, I remembered my childhood trauma with encyclopedic detail.

Thankfully, she didn’t demand an answer from me that very moment. A week was enough to decide, at least, what to say when I met her again. It was actually on the third day I gave a serious thought to whether I could accept her proposal or not. The tables had turned and I had the arduous task of deciding whether to be in a relationship with her or not. It was an unpleasant task. And it was an arduous task as I was deciding to decide my fate.  And, perhaps, her fate too. Our fate!

In fact, I dreaded Dulcie’s “repulsive disorder” as she had put it. But I also dreaded losing her. And falling in love out of sympathy was out of the question.

But matters of love the heart, they say, has a mind of its own and can make its own decisions. When it comes to love, the heart and the mind are usually engaged in a battle.

“What at all have you seen in this lady that you can’t reason a little?” Mind would ask Heart.

“Who told I can’t reason? I say she is the one I love and that’s all,” Heart would reply.

“That’s irrational. In loving someone, you have to take many factors into account, and so far, you haven’t given me any reason why you are so mad about this girl, who has nothing to offer our master,” Mind would not relent.

“Irrational? In whose judgement? I have told you that she is the one I love and there is nothing you can do to change my mind, my friend.”

“You’re, indeed, very funny. Do you have any mind of your own?”

“Then how do I take those reasonable decisions? Don’t ever think I don’t think before arriving at my decision.”

“Remember, our master is no mean a person. He can get any woman of his choice to marry so why do you settle on this good-for-nothing bitch and refuse to be a little reasonable? Remember at his work place that beautiful, humble and well-bred graduate is dying over him. I hope you have not forgotten about pretty medical assistant who lives in the next flat. Would it not be with enormous pride if our master married her? What about the catechist’s daughter who is the manager of that multinational company? You seem to blind to all these ladies with enviable and sterling qualities. Instead you’re rooting for this one who paints her body with all manner of coulours and wears grotesque make-up. When I look at her I see a Hindu goddess. You…”

“Enough!” Heart would snarl. “Have I ever forced my decision on our master? You talk and I also talk but he always listens to me, despite my irrationality as you’ve said. Let’s not quarrel over this. It is he who decides and at the end of the day, we’ll see who wins,” Heart would conclude teasingly.

And the heart would always win.

So if you see a young man or lady dying over someone you may call “a bitch,” do not complain. The mind is always subservient to the heart in the decision-making process when it comes to love. The decision of the heart is final, except in some extremely exceptional cases.

So it was in my case. Despite the trauma I had gone through in the past and could not sit in the same class with an epileptic classmate, my heart said it was either Dulcie or no any other lady, much to the displeasure of my mind, which thought otherwise. But as the Sunday, approached, my mind for the first time began to reason with my heart. It started when the import of the risk I was about to take dawned on me like day as I lay thoughtfully in bed one night. How severe was her sickness that all the men who came her way could not bear with it and had to abandon such a brainy beauty? I just lay still and listened my heart and mind enact their usual drama.

“But have you forgotten that love is a risk?” Heart asked Mind.

“For the first time, you’ve said something sensible,” Mind agreed.

Yes, love is indeed a risk. The character of your partner can change even if he or she has the best of character. And as I considered the hell I was being forced by love to enter, I realized that I wasn’t an angel myself. Besides, everybody is a potential disabled person. I had been to the Korle Bu-Accident Centre before and when that thought crossed my mind, I saw Dulcie as an able-bodied beauty.

A well-built, handsome young man I worked with once told us that he was going to Koforidua over the weekend to see his “flower”. The following Monday we were shocked to hear that he was involved in an accident on his way back and would forever be confined to the wheelchair. It was there at the accident centre that I later saw a pretty lady banker and friend, who had undergone plastic surgery after an accident and lost appetite.

Did their spouses bargain for these conditions? What if this happened to either Dulcie or me after marriage? Would we call it quits? Many rational thoughts occurred to me and I became philosopher of love as I pondered over my life with Dulcie.

I smiled to myself, and having convinced myself that I made the right decision, I picked my phone and dialed her number. I wanted to tell her that I loved her. But she wouldn’t listen.

“Please, I said I needed the reply on Sunday. Don’t rush,” she advised. “The last man who dumped me accepted to go out with me the moment I told him about my deformity, but what happened? Sunday is not far from now. Please think about it well. I want you to tell me in person.”

Finally the Sunday came. And we met.

“Please, there is one thing I want to tell you. I can’t tolerate cheating. And I can’t forgive you if you cheat on me,” she said, her facial expression corroborating the words that parted her dainty lips. “If you poison or shoot me and I survive, you may come back to plead and I’ll forgive you. But if you cheat on me, not even God, and I mean it, not even God can intervene. I’m happy you love me as I am. I assure you that when it comes to my love, you have no competitor. Let’s only pray that the good Lord will see us through. I know it will be difficult for both of us but there is nothing a willing heart has never achieved before.”

I thanked her and promised to be hers, hers alone.

“When do you want us to get married?” she asked me. “You seem not to be thinking about that now?” she added when she found out that that aspect was nowhere near my current plans after a long chat about our plans for the future. I told her I had to put one or two things together before I could think about marriage. But that was not to say that I was still unsteady about the decision I had taken, I assured her. And so from that Sunday, Dulcie became the love of my life. It was more than a dream come true. And I was proud of her, which she knew.

When I first met her I told myself that getting her to accept my proposal would put me at the apex of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. But now that I had her, I realized that I was still miles away from self-actualisation in life. How could I marry when I hadn’t got any decent salary, not even a decent accommodation?

Due to her ailment, I didn’t enjoy much of her company and the joy that comes with dating such a beautiful jewel. I can count the number of times we went out in all the three years we dated. She told me that the disease was so disgraceful that it came where there were a lot of people. I prayed it never occurred in my presence, but one terrible morning it happened.

She had paid me a visit and when it was time for her to leave, she collapsed when she held the door knob and was about to step out. My immediate reaction was to run outside, which I did. It was only then that I realized nothing had changed since the day I struggled in the primary school to escape from the epileptic girl who had suffered convulsion in a Math class. I shook violently in every limb and could not get into the room to help her. Then a thought flashed my mind and I obeyed. That seemed to be the only excuse that could save me, no matter how stupid or irrelevant it was to her condition. About twenty minutes later, I returned into the room with an ice block. She sat traumatised, and beside her was what appeared to be a foamy discharge from her mouth. I was horrified. I explained that I had read somewhere that the sick person’s temperature usually rose in such circumstance, hence the need for ice to stabilize it. I faltered in my concocted story and knew Dulcie was too smart for that.

That incident shook the very foundation of our relationship and the only reason I thought we didn’t break up was because we lived far apart. That gave either of us time to overcome our different shocks. After my National Service in Cape Coast, I secured a job there while she worked in Accra. We visited each other once in a while and as time went on, I realized I could not have made a better decision in accepting to go out with her though I still dreaded the day she might suffer an attack in my presence.  But for how long could I avoid that? I psyched myself up by concentrating on her positive qualities, which she had in abundance.

Dulcie’s inner beauty outshone her outward appearance and I found it rare and pleasantly strange.

On the day of our wedding, I insisted that the ceremony be a modest one. A large crowd would be a disservice to us. But it was not going to be as I had wished. She came from a family that was well respected for everything people would like to be associated with – a good name, wealth, humility and respect for others. So in the church auditorium sat close to a thousand and five hundred congregants and well-wishers.

I had asked some prayer warriors from my church to keep praying throughout the ceremony against any eventuality. Weddings are sacred and anything could happen, I told them. I kept the real prayer topic from them. I had made a vow to Dulcie and that aside; I would not want to spoil the joy with which people came to witness the wedding. And the only way to keep a secret is to keep it to yourself alone. Tell one trusted friend and the whole world would be humming with the rumour.

“Can you believe he is marrying an epileptic?” one would whisper.

“So is this thing true? Is it because of the beauty or the money in her family?” another would join.

“Have you forgotten that love, they say, is blind?” And so it would continue to spread, like wild harmattan fire licking the grassland of Bongo.

My mother was the first to realize that I wasn’t my usual self during the wedding. She sent my younger sister, Gifty, to tell me to look a bit cheerful even if I had some scores to settle with the bride.

“Mummy says she is not happy with the way you carry yourself,” she whispered so faintly that I heard her because her lips were almost in my ear. Dulcie must not hear that. “She says there is no one who has ever married, hundred percent pleased with his or her spouse.”

But mine was not dissatisfaction with the bride. It was fear. The fear of something they did not know.

“My Guardian Angel, I know how you feel and I understand you, but cheer up. I know the God we serve will not disgrace us. He will not allow our enemies to gloat over our shame,” Dulcie later told me when she realized that I was too moody for such an occasion. With those words, I lightened up. She was a lady who gave me hope with her words when I was downhearted.

I put on an artificial smile and responded to the cheers from friends, relatives and fellow workers. If they had known what I was going through, they surely would have kept their cheers to themselves and prayed for me.

But God being so good, we sailed through the wedding and the after-reception without any incident.

“Thank you, Jesus, for this wonderful day,” I sighed and fell on the bed of our plush hotel room, where we were to have our two-week honeymoon. But Dulcie had something to say and from the way she looked, the joy that lighted my heart after that incident-free wedding retraced its steps to where it had come from.

“What is it, my Angel?” I asked, very worried. Then she started to weep.

“Please, stop crying and tell me whatever it is,” I consoled her and wiped her tears with a handkerchief. My mind revisited the day she told me about her predicament. It went like this. But what was it that she had hidden from me all this while? Why had she not told me but waited for me to commit myself, knowing full well that there was nothing I could do at this juncture? How was I going to bear this? I knew love was a risk but there was a limit. No sensible frog will jump into boiling water just because it likes water. Anger was beginning to well up in me even before I heard her.

“Please, promise you’ll forgive me and continue to love me if I tell you what I’m about to say,” she said, still sobbing and looking intently at me.

“I love you and will always love you, come what may,” I said uneasily.

“I’m not epileptic!” she said.

And I froze. But she spoke on, ignoring the tell-me-you’re-joking expression on my face.

“I just wanted to marry someone who truly loves me. And thank God I’ve found you. Seven different men have come my way, but they’ve all failed my love test. Some just wanted to have an affair with me and find their way but when I insisted that there would not be any sex before marriage, they left. They could not bear the shame that comes with such a sickness when it occurs in public, I think.  I also lied to you that they used me and dumped me in order to make my story sound more believable. I’m still a virgin. I feigned the epileptic attack you once witnessed.”

Another chilling revelation! I looked at her with unbelieving eyes. Then she continued.

“You have proven that you truly love me and I promise to reciprocate your love in whatever way I can. I’ll forever remain faithful to you in all things. I love you and will do anything to please you. Forgive me for robbing you of the joy of dating and courting. I will make up for that in whatever way I can. I love you, my Guardian Angel.”

I sat still. I had questions to ask but that would be later. I was too shocked to think clearly and ask any question. Besides, they were not necessary at this moment. I raised my head and looked at the lady seated by me on the bed. She looked more beautiful than ever.

Our eyes met. And we stared fixedly at each other. Then I could not see her again. Tears blurred my vision. And I cried colourless tears onto the grey shirt I wore under my French suit. She cried too. Then we held hands. Then our mouths got locked. Our clothes began to peel, involuntarily. Those expensive clothes were thrown away like pieces of rags. We were later to discover one of her hand gloves under the bed when we were leaving two weeks later. They didn’t matter at that moment. Soon we were in a world of our own, out of planet earth. “Jeeesus!” I heard it but I don’t know whose lips it escaped.

We melted into one, and then into space we flew. And true to her word, she was untouched, a pure virgin.

It was a memorable night, a night I would never forget for the rest of my life. And Dulcie forever remains the most precious thing I’ve discovered among all of God’s creation, especially when I discovered after twenty years that she had no such sickness. She is a lady I could never have won in any fair contest, not even with Oberon’s Potion! But I had her because I understood the number one principle of love —

that love is a risk.

NB: Written by Manasseh Azure Awuni

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