He was too early. The email had said 11am at the Nethermead. Yet here he was, right place but wrong timing. He smiled bitterly to think about how that statement summed up his whole life.
It was a little after 10am and the city was only just waking up after the debauchery of Friday night. Osamudiame held onto his coffee cup like it was an anchor and he, a drowning man.
It was quiet here, quiet enough to resound with memories and promises of what was and what could have been.
He had thought leaving Nigeria would be enough to keep the demons at bay. He had thought the streets of New York would make a difference. There were no gutters he could pass the night in like the ones his father had made his bed in on so many nights in Lagos. There were no beer parlors he could buy beer on credit from on days he was broke. He had no friends in New York that would aid and abet an alcohol addiction like his father had had in Lagos. And most of all, he had a dream, the kind his father never had; and he had Ame.
He soon learned.
Osa looked at his watch again and breathed a sigh of relief to see he only had to wait 15 minutes more. He could hear the train rumble in the distance, a solemn echo of goodbyes. He wondered if Ame was taking the train to get here. It was the one thing about New York he has never gotten used to-the subway. His friends called him weird when he explained that he felt more comfortable in those stuffy Lagos yellow buses where he could see the driver, the captain of the journey than he ever did on the impersonal contraptions that were trains.
He hoped Ame was taking a taxi. He himself had walked the eleven blocks distance between the park and his apartment.
He didn’t see her as she approached. One minute he was lost in his thoughts and the next, he was looking behind him to find her smile, like rain after a drought.
‘Hi’ she said, taking the seat beside him as he stood up.
‘Sit down, sit down’ she said. ‘You are so gentlemanly.’
‘Hi’ he answered, as they both sat down. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. Maybe it was the colors of a new beginning, maybe it was the joy of a new life, maybe it was his absence in her life or maybe it was all of it.
Her feet were swollen as was her belly and Osa felt something loose its place irrevocably within him. The last time he had seen her was four months ago and she had not been showing yet.
‘How are you’ he asked.
‘I am good, real good, Osa. Thanks for asking. And you?’
‘Not as good but I am on the right path.’
Silence reigned for a little while and then he spoke again.
‘How is the baby?’ Even though he wasn’t looking at her face, he could feel her smile at his question.
‘Babies, Osa, babies; twins.’ She said, in a voice that would be what voices looked like if they could dance. ‘Dike is going crazy with excitement and insists they will both be boys.’
‘Wow’ Osa said quietly.
‘I know right’ Ame enthused excitedly.
Osa knew he should say something profound, something that would make her trip here worth it. After all, he had been the one to request for this meeting. Yet here he was, struggling for the words, for the magic that could make things go back to the way they once were.
Twins, he ruminated. He would have made a lousy father to one kid but two? And Dike?. He could feel the old bitterness start to rise up like bile in his belly.
He groaned loudly.
‘Osa? What is it? Are you okay?’ Ame asked, her hand on his shoulder, her face crumpled with worry.
‘What if I figure it out Ame? What if I fix things? What if.. We left Nigeria together Ame. We left in search of one dream. How did this happen? How did our dream become two different ones? How did our path lead to crossroads? And I know it is my fault and I am sorry but I can make it right Ame.’
‘I am doing good I swear. I haven’t had a drink in ages and my therapist, she has worked wonders with others…’
‘Stop Osa, just stop.’ She interrupted, her face a mask he could read.
‘I love you Osa and I will love you till the day breath leaves my body. You have given me so much that it would be impossible for my heart to beat without filling up with love for you first. I have no say in the matter of loving you.’ She had brought along a bottle of water and took a sip before continuing.
‘But me and the way I feel cannot be the focus any longer. These tiny beings growing inside me, they didn’t choose to be born. I chose to not use protection because you made promises like the ones you are making now before. I chose to not get an abortion when I first found out because I believed in those promises. I chose antenatal care because I believed in you and the dream that brought us to this land. I chose to bring these children into this world. I owe them Osa. I owe it to them to start making the right choices. Isn’t that why we left Nigeria to come here? So we could make the right choices and not be hampered by our environment? I owe it to our children to give them a good father, love, stability. I can’t put any child through you. Maybe back home, it would have worked, but here, in this land filled with tools to make the right choices, it won’t. I might not be able choose the man I love but I can choose who fathers my children and I have chosen Dike.’
Brooklyn was starting to warm up but every city has its dark places; places where no sun could reach, places where light could not find. That morning, Osa’s heart was one of such places.
Ame took his hand in hers and kissed it. There were tears in his eyes but her own tears wouldn’t let her see his. She was right of course. Osa knew that and he loved her for it even if it meant his broken heart would never heal.
‘I have to be going Osa. I and Dike are moving out of the city. We will be needing more space soon. I have to help pack although I will probably just be getting in the way with my big belly.’
He stood to help her up.
‘I will walk you a few blocks’ he said.
”But we aren’t going the same way’ Ame debated.
The train rumbled in the distance and Osa again wondered how many hearts it had broken by leaving and how many hearts it would heal when it arrived at its destinations.
‘This one last time’ he replied, ‘this one last time, let’s pretend we are’
She looked at his kind eyes, eyes that would have been great for any child to see the world through if they weren’t so clouded by the film of addiction. She missed him so much but she had learned to fill in his blanks with Dike.
She took his outstretched hand for one last time.
‘Maybe as we walk, you can tell me why you really asked me here today’
He smiled shyly.
‘Because it was here, this place where we first fell in love with America that I thought I would someday ask you to marry me. Because I wanted to remind myself of how much my mistakes, my addiction to alcohol has cost me. Because I wanted to remind myself why.’
‘Why there is no going back to the man I used to be.’
She took his hand and drew him closer so that anyone that passed them might have thought they were friends, the kind that once loved each other.
‘Tell me more…’
They walked the rest of the way arm in arm; he, a broken man, and she, the glue that never really held him down but all of that was okay because at the end of the day, they were on the right paths, different, but right.
Photo Credits – Unicef
Song of the Day: Bone Thugs N Harmony- Crossroads