File photo: Couple

I was 17 when he proposed to me. We were both in high school. He was in the third year and I was in the second year.

I don’t remember a lot of the things he said to me but I remember telling him no at first. I remember telling him how my mother advised me to stay away from boys of his kind.

I also remember telling him how my dad threatened to stop looking after me if I got pregnant. I had all the tools and resources that helped me to say no to him. He had only one thing; persistence.

He kept coming and coming until classmates saw us together so often that they decided to call us lovers. 

Even when I hadn’t accepted his proposal, he kept telling his friends that I was his girlfriend and they believed him.

At some point, I remember telling myself, “Everybody thinks we are dating so why don’t we date?” The next time he told me about his feelings for me, I accepted him and we became lovers.

High school love, what do lovers even do together to be called lovers anyway? We were trapped in a campus that made everything possible for us not to engage in any indecent act.

The few moments we spent together at night, holding each other’s hands and professing our everlasting love were the night we stole. We hid behind trees and classrooms but nothing could give us the opportunity to do what lovers do. 

I don’t remember a lot of things but if we kissed, I would have remembered. If we had sex, it would have been printed in my memories forever.  But I remember we spent a lot of time together. School games, we were together.

During the entertainment, we were together. After dining, we stayed behind and talked. Everything he did had love written all over it but we were too young and didn’t have the space to explore. 

A year later he completed school and left. He visited me one day on campus, carrying gifts. Immediately I saw him, I knew the reason he came; it was my birthday and he had come to surprise me. I was so overjoyed for seeing him and for the fact that he remembered my birthday. That was 2007.

We were not on Facebook and we were not using phones so it meant a lot when someone remembered your birthday. When he got admission to the university, I heard it.

He got a phone when he went to university and I was calling him from our school’s phone booth. 

Then I completed senior high too. That was when communication between us began to suffer. I didn’t have a phone so it became hard to reach him. Slowly, communication between us got severed until we didn’t hear from each other again.

We became memories. We became a story we told our friends when asked about our first love. Soon, life took over. I met new people and new people met me. I fell in love over and over again until the story of us was pushed far behind into my subconscious mind. 

It was the year 2018, I had suffered a severe ulcer and was admitted to the hospital. On my third day at the hospital, I was asleep one early morning when I felt a tap on my hand and a voice that asked, “Young lady, how are you feeling this morning?” I squinted at first and saw a man in white apparel with a stethoscope around his neck–the doctor. I answered, “I’m feeling a lot better.” When he spoke again, I looked at him.

There was something about him. He looked like someone I knew. “Israel?” I said. He was writing on the pad in his hands and didn’t lift up his head when he answered, “Yeah, I’m Israel. I’m on duty this morning.”

I mentioned his name again and this time he looked at me. I asked, “You don’t remember me, do you?” He kept a stern face for a while. He said, “Ethel…?” 

We were in a hospital so we hushed our emotions but his smile and the glow in his eyes were enough for me. He asked, “How many years now?” I answered, “The last time was 2007.” He laughed and I laughed.

He said, “I close at 2 pm. I’ll come back again.” I told him, “Ain’t you suppose to discharge me. I’m well enough.” He laughed as he walked to the next patient.”

When he closed, he came to my bed and we talked. We exchanged contact and he left. In the evening he called to ask how I was doing and we talked for almost an hour. All the memories I pushed at the back of my mind were brought back. The next day, I got discharged.

We kept calling each other. When we finished talking about all the memories, he asked, “So what happened. How come I didn’t hear from you again?” I said, “I didn’t have a phone, remember? And by the time I did, I had lost your contact.”

We talked about our lives after 2007, what we’d done, and what we had become. We met one weekend at a bar where he looked at me and said, “The years couldn’t steal your beauty.

“If anything, it kept adding to what you already had.” Huh, my heart. My head swelled. I said, “I’m glad you still find me beautiful.”

In March 2020, we got married. We were on a honeymoon when the president announced the lockdown.

The next day, my husband was called to resume work. It was at the height of the Covid-19 and a lot wasn’t known about a pandemic that was ravaging the world. For a whole week, I didn’t see my husband.

He called a few times a day to tell me what was happening at the hospital. The cases coming in and how many patients were struggling to hold on to their lives. In the end, he would say, “Take care of yourself, dear. I’ll be home soon.” 

I was always scared for his life. I’ve lost him once and just when we ought to stay together and enjoy our union, a pandemic hit and kept him away from me. One evening, he called and said, “I’ll be home tomorrow. I’ve been given some time off.” The next morning he was home.

When I saw him, all I wanted to do was to hug him and tell him how much I’d missed him but he lifted his hand to signal me to stop right there. “No, we can’t hug or touch. It’s dangerous. We need to keep a distance between us, we can’t be so sure.”

He went straight to the guestroom. 

For the next three days, we stayed together but apart. I’ll cook his food and leave it in the kitchen. I’ll go to the hall and he’ll enter the kitchen, eat there and leave for his room.

When watching TV, he’ll sit in the two-seater sofa while I sit in the three-seater. These two seats were far apart.

We had to walk around the house with our nose masks on. The only time we removed was when eating or bathing. Living together became a chore.

Some night I would go and stand behind his door, think of going in and jump over him but he’ll be very upset if I did that so I’ll quietly walk back to my room and sleep. 

He kept going to work and coming back in and social distancing from me until one day he started showing signs of Covid. It was a weekend. He stayed in his room all day, coughing and sneezing. At some point I got scared.

I started having wild thoughts of loss and becoming a widow just within a month of marriage. On Monday, he was taken to the hospital and got tested. For 14 days I didn’t see him.

All I heard was his feeble voice on the phone. Prayer upon prayer later, all his results returned negative. He came home totally healed and that night, we hugged and kissed and you know what I mean happened. It was the best moment of our lives. 

We try to live a normal life once in a while but we still walk around with our nose masks on thinking it’s the only thing we can do to stay sane and safe in a world being eaten away by a pandemic.