How do they say it? I think they say you’re more likely to be killed on the way to buying your lottery ticket than you are to actually win. I plan to buy a ticket every day in the hope this is true.
I wish it had been me.
“Hey babe, I’m sorry please forgive me. I love you. I’ll call you when I get there.”
Your text is now nine days old. This morning I responded with, “I love you too. I’ve booked us a table at Coldstone’s for Friday night so we can talk xx”.
I got the usual response, “Unable to deliver message.”
Will I eventually run out of things to say in response? I doubt it, there’s still so much I want to tell you. So much I should have said.
I should have said: I spent thirty years without you and I never realised how life could be so much better. I went through the motions of life—various jobs, friends, a few disastrous relationships. Then I met you, and life suddenly had a purpose.
I should have said: I woke up every day of our ten years together feeling like the luckiest girl alive. I should have said you made me feel that I could achieve anything. I should have said; you made me feel beautiful even when I knew I wasn’t.
I should have said—
“Excuse me, sorry. Are you okay?”
The woman’s words were like sudden pins stabbing my skin. She was alongside me with her son, who was stuffing his face with a humongous pie. She looked genuinely concerned.
“Oh fine. Yes. Sorry, I’ll get out of your way.”
How long had I been standing there by the pillar? *This keeps happening and the buzzing in my head is getting harder to shake off.* My hands were empty; what had I even come in for?
– “I’ve bought your favourite Bloody Mary. The one you used to want back home in Nigeria. Let’s get drunk and then make up.”
– “Unable to deliver message.”
I open one of the bottles as soon as I get home. The glass from earlier is still by the sink, a small amount of the red liquid pooled in the bottom. No point in getting a clean one. No point in a lot of things now.
No point cooking if you’re not there to enjoy it with me.
No point in watching television; comedies aren’t funny without you to laugh with. Dramas not the same if I don’t hear you say at the end, “I knew it was him!”
No point in listening to music, most songs will only evoke memories. I don’t think I can handle that feeling again. That feeling of being punched in the stomach, so real that I still double over with the pain of it.
I suppose I should eat something. I’ll just finish this glass and then I’ll see what’s in the fridge.
– “I hope you’re hungry, I’m making your favourite for dinner tonight. Hurry home xx”
– “Unable to deliver message.”
I wake up some hours later, who knows how long exactly but it’s now dark outside. I must have been holding the glass when I fell asleep. I’ll never get that blood red stain off the cream cushion.
I take the empty bottle to the kitchen, feeling like my legs weren’t connected to the rest of my body. There were now ten empty bottles on the worktop.
Ten green bottles hanging on a wall, I sing. What did that even mean? Why were the bottles “hanging”? Surely they should have been standing. Why was I even thinking about this now?
Another missed call from Mum is showing on my phone, and a text; it’s not like her to text.
“I’m getting really worried now, if you don’t call me tomorrow I’m driving down there.”
I always call her weekly for a catch up and the second Sunday has just passed without a word from me. I suppose I’d better call her tomorrow. I haven’t wanted to tell her. I haven’t told anyone yet, that will just make it real. I had another call today. They are flying you home tomorrow, so I suppose I’ll have to start telling people. At work, they think I’m now into my second week of a serious stomach bug. There will be gossip that I’m pregnant, or have cancer. I’d actually be happy with either right now.
We’d both decided having a family wasn’t for us. We were happy just the two of us. Now it’s just me, when there could have been a little version of you to hold right now.
– “I’ve been thinking, we need a break. Let’s go to Paris for the weekend. Remember that little hotel we stayed in? Remember how we didn’t leave the room for the first twenty-four hours? Sweet dreams xx”
– “Unable to deliver message.”
Mum arrived this morning. I called her last night and told her so she drove straight here. After hugs, tears and questions, she started to cope in the only way she knows how.
“Right let’s get you and this place started. You can start with a shower, when did you last wash your hair?”
By the time I emerged from the bathroom, she had changed the bedding (I didn’t bother to tell her it hadn’t been slept in for eleven nights) and was cleaning the kitchen. The empty bottles were nowhere to be seen and a pan of soup was bubbling away on the hot plate.
Dad always said Mum behaved like an American woman, and till he died, I would wonder when being caring as a mother became a foreign thing. Now, I no longer wonder. I simply accept it. I am simply too tired to do anything else.
“That’s all I could find in the cupboard, I’ll go to the supermarket once I’ve got you settled.”
“I’m fine, mum, please don’t fuss. I’m really not hungry.” In fact the thought of that soup, all gloopy and fake chicken flavoured, was making me gag. You always hated tinned soup, I don’t know why we even had it in the cupboard, it must have been there for years.
“You’ll eat something even if I have to force open your mouth and spoon it in, young lady.”
I could see she was now in full “mother hen” mode. I would have to play along if I had any hope of getting rid of her sometime soon.
So now here I am sitting at the table, spoon in hand, mum sitting opposite with a cup of tea. I’ve managed to get half the chicken gloop down so far but I’m not convinced it will stay down.
“I envy you, you know.”
I don’t raise my head, just keep staring into the bowl so she carries on.
“You are so lucky to have found a man like him. I never had to worry about you, and that’s not something most parents can say. But I never had a doubt that you were happy and that he would take good care of you. Do you know how many people can say they found the love of their lives? Not many, I can tell you. I certainly never did.”
I finally look up at her, eyebrows raised, giving her silent permission to expand on that statement.
“Oh don’t look like that. Of course I loved your father. He was a good man and he did the right thing by me. He was a great dad to you. I think maybe because I never knew any other men in that way.” She coloured a little at this but continued. “I had nothing to compare to but our relationship certainly never lit any fires. It was just steady and safe, not passionate. Not like yours and Niyi’s.”
Just for a brief second, my thoughts had been elsewhere, taking in Mum’s revelation, which, if I thought about it wasn’t that much of a shock. Now, at the mention of your name, I was back in the fog that had been engulfing me for eleven days.
“Anyway,” she said. “I’m just saying, I know you can’t feel it right now but one day you’ll look back and realise how lucky you were to find each other.”
I’d never thought of us as passionate but I suppose we were. I’ve always been fiery, you said you loved that about me. I wish I hadn’t been quite so fiery that day.
“It’s best to let it out, you know.” Apparently mum wasn’t finished. “You’ll feel better when you start to talk about it. About him.”
I know all the sayings; best to talk about things; a problem shared; time’s the greatest healer; keep busy. How could I talk about it? How could I tell her the last I thing I said to you was “You don’t care about me, all you care about is your work. Don’t bother coming back.”
Well you didn’t, did you?
You didn’t come back.
How could I tell her you were just doing what you had to in order to keep your job so we could enjoy the finer things in life? How could I tell her I let you walk out with those words ringing in your ears just because I’d have to go to Lara’s wedding on my own? How could I tell her I didn’t deserve to be happy ever again?
Today I gathered with a few dozen other people, mostly friends but some strangers, to say goodbye to you for the last time. I don’t remember much about it now I’m back at home, sitting at the kitchen table, looking once again at your final text. Mum is still here.
– “I miss you so much. I hope you can forgive me for what I said. I will love you forever xx”
– “Unable to deliver message.”
I’ve decided that will be the last message. I don’t know what else to say and I don’t think I will ever start to feel better if I keep waiting and hoping for a reply. I’ve decided to take mum’s advice and talk to someone. I’m going to see a grief counsellor next week. I hope I can get the words out that some day I can find a way to live with this guilt. What I do know for sure is that you’d hate to see me like this; so I’ll do it.
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“Would you like anything to drink, madam?” The question brought me out of my reverie and back into the present.
Gin and tonic in hand, I gaze out of the small window. I’ve always found it so beautiful to be above the clouds, like being in heaven. Heathrow Airport had slowly diminished until it disappeared altogether about thirty minutes ago. I imagine mum making her way home now after waving me off. I hope she’s okay.
It’s been nearly a year since I said goodbye to you. I still think of you every day. I think I always will but now my thoughts aren’t all bad.
You changed my life twice, once by coming into it and once by leaving. In-between, you made me a better person, and so I decided to take your advice. You always said, “Life’s too short. Grab it with both hands and live, don’t let anything hold you back. Not ever.”
So I quit my job, sold the house and I’m on my way to New York. I got accepted on a screen-writing course over there. I can’t quite believe it either. I know I bored you for years with that dream, yet you always said I should go for it. Well, now I am. I know you’ll be proud of me, you always were. Of course I’m a bit scared but I’m really excited, too. Who knows what the future holds? What adventures lie ahead? Rest assured my darling, you will be the first to know.
Yours as I move on,
Written by AKINSANYA ADENIYI AYOSOJUMI