Growing up, you were okay with almost every other emotion; pain, sadness, shame, joy…none of these had fazed you like they fazed other people. You could handle these emotions like most people couldn’t.
Regret though, that is the one. Regret is the bottle of ice cold beer that you never touched but felt tipsy after staring at it for too long. It is the wrap of weed they passed to you at a high school party that you never smoked but were suspended for anyway. It is opening your eyes to look at the man atop of you, the man you love and wishing you could look at him the way he looked at you. It is staring at yourself in the mirror and wishing your lips were fuller, hips rounder, breast firmer, heart kinder.
You are a basket case of mistakes. You know this. Everyone knows this. He knows this. Yet he falls for you anyway. You find him at the University of Ibadan bookshop, amongst rows and rows of historical fiction. You blink too many times, but not enough times because he is still standing there. He will tell you later that he fell in love with your eyelashes first and your hands second. You try to warn him away. Everyone tries to warn him away. You are a rare kind of divorced woman; the kind that no one left, the kind that left.
“There is no surety she won’t leave you too.” They tell him.
“She is used goods,” They whisper with their eyes when they think you can’t see.
“Don’t say we didn’t warn you,” They conclude when they have tried all yet have failed to whisk him away from you.
He loves you so earnestly that it is scary. By the fifth month of knowing him, it starts to scare you even more to think he might be another of your mistakes. You make up your mind to dig yourself out of the hole before it gets deeper that it already is. You stop picking his calls, letting them go to sad voice mails. You stop replying his IMs. You avoid candy because all sweets remind you of the sweetness that takes a hold of your belly every time you see him, every time he says the words “I love you” .
Finally your company agrees to transfer you back to Lagos. You grab the offer with both hands and change your phone number the moment you get there. You do all these and yet you can’t stop thinking about him. One day, two months later, you get in your car and start driving. You don’t know where you are going but you keep driving anyway.
The house is the way you left it. It is a Sunday morning but Lanre never liked going to church anyway so you figure it is as good a timing as any.
He steps back to let you in the house when he sees who it is. Nothing has changed inside the house either except it no longer holds the dreams of two people. It is a house at rest. The aura of confusion and contradiction that pervaded the place when you lived there is gone and that, more than anything else makes you feel lighter than you have felt in ages.
“It is good to see you,” Lanre says after minutes have passed in silence. He is sitting in his favorite chair, the one you had got him.
“Same here…” You tell him, drinking in his face, trying not to remember how the last time you had seen those eyes, they had been soaked in tears.
He reaches out for your hand and you give it to him easily.
“Is he good to you?” He asks.
You don’t ask how he knows. Lanre had always been able to see through you no matter the nature of the veil you had on at any moment.
“Yes, he is amazing.” You tell him.
“Do you love him?”
“Yes…yes I do. But Lanre, what do I know? I thought I loved you too and look what happened.”
He smiles and you are taken aback at how blinding the smile is.
“Oh Shope, you never loved me. I knew this from day 1. Love is never deceitful, you can’t make it out to be what it is not. You can’t pretend love.”
“Why what Shope? Why marry a woman I knew I would never have all of ? Let me ask you something; imagine tomorrow you found a pearl, or a diamond, a real one, by some happenstance, on maybe Oniru beach. You know for sure that there was no way it could have gotten there except someone had lost it. You know someone somewhere is missing it yet you also know how valuable such a find is. You know every time you wear it, it would bring you tremendous happiness. You know it would open up doors you can never hope to walk through without it. Tell me Shope, how easy would it be to run to the police station and declare what you have found? How easy would it be to give up the diamond?”
It is a lot to swallow but when you have taken it all in, you finally ask the question that brought you here:
“So no regrets?”
The sun has upped its ante on Lagos and its rays have formed a halo around the man sitting across from you.
“I would have more regrets if I never loved you.”
You hug him for a long time before you leave. There are no tears this time. In fact he is smiling as he waves you off. You drive, in the opposite direction of home, towards Ibadan, towards possible regret, towards love.
Six years later and you wake up startled. You cannot remember where you are. It is too perfect to be the bedroom that you share with him and the four year old who prefers Mummy’s thighs to his bed, plus the three year old who thinks her father’s chest hair is a maze holding secrets only she can find.
Your crazy life is missing from this bedroom, along with the characters that make your story complete.
Your head is also pounding and you don’t know why. You attempt getting out of bed and stagger a bit until the dizziness leaves you and you are able to stand without holding onto anything.
That is when you glimpse them; a man in blue beach shorts, one child in his arms and the other holding onto his leg as they contemplate the expanse of water before them.
You want to open the window and ask the man if he remembered sun screen but you watch them instead for as long as you can afford to.
You remember now- the headache is a symptom of your jet lag, something Cory and the kids never seem to have. You are in Zanzibar, in a house by the sea Cory had rented to celebrate your fifth anniversary. You had wanted to leave the children behind but he had firmly refused to do that.
You regret not waking up early with them to watch the sea. You regret smacking Matanmi a little hard at the airport yesterday for not sitting in one place. You regret scowling at Kasola when she asked for ice-cream on the drive here from the airport last night. You regret shoving Cory when he tried to initiate love making after the kids had gone to bed yesterday. You regret forgetting to bring along the gift you had purchased for him to celebrate your five years together.
These are the sum of your regrets these days. You have found that a life without regret is over rated. You like living yours with regrets; you know them now for what they really are, masked chances to get it right, the second time around.
Song of the day: Taylor Swift – Dear John