The red Toyota Matrix made a screeching sound as she came to a sudden halt, leaving a cloud of dust behind.
Alighting from the car, she picked the single-stemmed red rose flower beside her on the passenger’s seat. She opened her black Dolce & Gabbana bag sitting on the back seat, removed her phone, and left the bag there. She figured there was no need to carry the bag since she didn’t plan on staying there for too long.
She made her way to the flimsy gate that stood ajar. The black gate had rusted due to neglect and was now brown. The miserable-looking gate stood in the middle of a long but short fence. She could neither see the beginning nor the end of the fence from where she stood, but could see above it. See the vast land that housed the remains of thousands of people—young and old, rich and poor.
The Harmattan wind blew the long ankle-length black gown that hung on her like a scarecrow. She had a black veil that covered her head and flowed down to her shoulders. She didn’t have any earrings and had no makeup on her face.
She passed the security guard at the gate and nodded at him. By tacit agreement, she and the guard — a lanky man, with salt and pepper hair on his head, who she guessed should be around his late fifties—had never said more than the usual greeting to each other.
She walked past the lone mango tree, which stood like an orphan by the gate. All at once, it seemed, the leaves on the mango tree had turned golden. Was it not a few weeks ago that the leaves were all green?
She trudged down the trail flanked by different shades of graves. The trail was the only part of the land that had red sand, which usually turned to mud during the rainy season. Dry grass covered the patches of land in between the graves and any other available space.
She passed one that was only a heap of red earth with stones placed round to mark the portion of that grave. Some other graves were decorated with flowered tiles. She noticed that even in the graveyard; there was a disparity between the rich and poor.
It should be around 11 a.m., but the sun was as gloomy as her mood. She felt as if the sun was mourning along with those who had their loved ones buried in the cemetery.
She had only one purpose at this point: to go to the man she had loved and still love, who was buried some six months ago in the cemetery. She had made this trip before but knew she might not visit for a time long after this visit.
It was time to move.
Serena went out for her usual early morning walks. She went out every morning at 5:30 a.m. She wore a blue shorts, black T-shirt and a black trainers. Serena lived in one of those middle-classed streets, which housed people that were not rich, neither were they poor.
The street had a tar road that ran in the middle of the houses like a zip on a long dress. There were different kinds of houses. Duplex, flats, and single apartments. Some were painted while others weren’t. Some had gates; others were built with neither a fence nor a gate. The houses were arranged haphazardly, without a proper plan. There were shops in front of almost all the homes.
Serena was walking the straight tarred road, so deep in thought that she didn’t notice the guy coming behind her until a whiff of his lemon-scented cologne mingled with the smell of sweat drew her from her reverie.
“A penny for your thought,” he said, smiling and catching up with her. She didn’t stop walking and didn’t even turn to look at him.
“Good morning,” she retorted cautiously.
“I guess you live around here? I have been seeing you every morning”
“Yes, I do,” she said dismissively, without sparing him a glance.
She had hoped her attitude would put him off, but whatever was attracting him to her was not intimated by Serena’s attitude.
“I got so used to seeing your beautiful face that I looked out for you every morning. I guess you didn’t even notice,” he said, apparently not deterred by her attitude.
Did he just say she was beautiful? When was the last time anyone called her beautiful? Serena was a dowdy, plain-looking lady who didn’t care about her looks. She was of average height, fair-complexioned, hazel eyes, full lips on a long face, with shoulder-length hair that she hand-combed most times when going out.
But she couldn’t remember if anyone had called her beautiful before. She blushed.
He might have sensed the look on her face because he said it again. “You have the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.”
That was it.
She stopped in her tracks. Turned, looked at him closely. “I bet you love flattering every woman you see. Try another pickup line as this didn’t work,” she said as she hurried away and left him standing with mouth wide open that he almost drooled.
She saw him waiting for her the following morning. He apologized for making her feel uncomfortable the previous day and introduced himself as Jay. They walked together that day. That was the beginning of several other walks to follow.
Jay was tall, dark-skinned, with a close-cropped haircut with sideburns and a beard that bracketed his face. He was handsome. It amused Serena that such a handsome man should be attracted to her at all.
From then onwards, Serena would wait for Jay for them to take the 2KM walk together and back. This strengthened their bond, and they became an item.
Serena was smitten with Jay but felt he was holding a part of him from her. She knew something was wrong. She couldn’t place it.
They extended their time from just morning walks and spent time as much as they could.
On one of their dates, Jay opened up to her. He asked about her genotype and she said she had never really bothered to check. She was 28, a graduate of Mass Communication, and was working with a private publishing house. She was too busy to date and never cared about her genotype.
Then he said something that made her wished she was dreaming. “My genotype is SS, Serena.”
Serena didn’t want to believe she heard him well.
Looking at the two of them, one would have thought it was Serena that had sickle cell disease (SCD) since she looked really thin. But of course, that was her nature and people would usually joke that she could be a model. Though she knew it wasn’t because she was beautiful, it was because she had the height and the stature.
A moment of awkward silence passed, as Serena didn’t know what to say. She was too stunned for words. She could feel the words clogging her throat, afraid of coming out through her mouth. She didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
Jay launched into a tale of how his parents—both AS—had defied all pleas by their parents not to get married to each other because of their genotype. They absconded when the heat was too much.
His parents had his elder sister and were overjoyed when she turned out to be AS. They had him two years later and were devastated when he was sickly. They didn’t need a soothsayer to tell them that the custodians of fate were not on their side this time.
Jay’s parents thought the love they had for each other was strong enough to keep them afloat. Jay’s constant health challenge tore them apart. They were constantly fighting. His in and out of hospital drained the family financially, emotionally, and psychologically.
People around always reminded him of the fact that he had SCD and death was hovering over him, ready to sink its ugly claws at any opportunity.
He had no friends. He was afraid of being a burden to anyone. Nobody believed he was going to live to be 20. To everyone’s surprise, Jay had celebrated his 30th birthday the previous month.
“I avoided the ladies as much as I could. Why date a woman when you know you might not live long enough to make her happy. I thought I would never fall in love with anyone. Not until I saw you, Serena,” Jay said soberly.
His voice broke as he said that. She saw the emotion. She saw his heart in those words and she was sure, without a doubt, that he loved her.
Jay’s words felt like so many bullets aimed at her heart.
Serene sniffed, struggling for control. She didn’t want to add to his pain by crying in his presence. She felt he was already in enough pain as it was.
It was a Thursday evening, and they were at an eatery. The only other patrons sat at the far end of the eatery. The eatery had eight small long-legged tables covered with a white lacy tablecloth, a vase with a bunch of pink plastic rose flowers sat on top, in the middle, flanked by two table mats placed in from of the two chairs facing each other.
Serena and Jay completely forgot the roasted chicken and Coke they ordered. They were drowning in their emotions. The last thing on their minds was food. No matter how appetizing.
“I will do a genotype test tomorrow,” Serena said matter-of-factly. “Jay, no matter the outcome, I love you so much. I can’t let you go SS or whatever.”
She reached out and touched his hand reassuringly, looking deeply into his eyes. Baring whatever she felt for him.
“No, Serena, love is not enough. My parents have taught me that fact. I wouldn’t bring a child into this world to go through what I am going through. I don’t even want to get married to anyone. I love you, yes, but I can’t do that to you.” He couldn’t stop the tears as they cascade down his face.
Serena felt her heart slipped to her knees.
The last two days were tough for Serena. She submitted the specimen for the genotype test on Saturday and was expected to collect the result on Monday.
She could barely concentrate as all she kept wondering was what if she was AS? She loved Jay and was ready to risk it. He didn’t even look like one that had SCD. He looked healthier than her.
She rushed to the clinic at 1:00 pm; her break time to get the genotype result. The look on the lab technician’s face told her all she needed to know. It wasn’t good. One look at the unsmiling, petite lady she knew. The lady was friendlier, and all smiles on Saturday. Serene assumed that the only plausible reason for the lady’s sour mood was because her result was not good.
Serena took the result, tried to calm her nerves while she drove to the office, and tried all she could to carry her unsteady legs to her office without attracting any attention from her nosy colleagues.
She didn’t have the mind to check the result. She wanted to be in the right frame of mind to drive home.
She got home— a one-room self-contained. The room was sparsely furnished. A double bed, a wardrobe, a reading chair, and a table, which she converted to a dining table. She partitioned the wardrobe into parts, where she arranged her clothes, shoes, and bags. Two doors stood side by side in the big room: one was the kitchen and the other was the toilet.
She heaved when she eventually opened her result and discovered she was AA. She quickly called Jay. The news elated him. He was still afraid of getting married, but knowing Serena was AA had significantly lessened their burdens.
“Over my dead body!” Mr. Nath, Serena’s father snarled when Serena opened up to her parents that Jay had proposed to marry her, but had SCD. All Serena’s mum did was cried.
Her father reminded her of how she would be a widow in no time. Jay was a walking corpse. His days were numbered.
Nothing Serena said made any sense to her parents. They thought she had lost her mind for even considering starting a life with Jay, even when her genotype was AA.
Jay’s parents didn’t understand why Serena would marry their son despite his health challenge. They loved and accepted her.
On a Friday afternoon, barely three months after Jay met Serena’s parents, Jay’s mother called Serena. Jay was in the hospital. His condition was critical. He was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Serena quickly left what she was doing and rushed to the hospital. She could finally see him after several hours of waiting. One look at Jay on the hospital bed and Serene felt a tightening in her stomach.
Several tubes in different directions were attached to his body, connected to a monitor that made a beeping sound. He had an oxygen mask on.
Panic wrapped its icy fingers around her throat, suffocating her. She broke down and wept. Wept for the future they might never have together. Wept for the so many dreams they had dreamt together, but will never be.
Serena couldn’t go home that night. She spent it with Jay’s mother at the hospital. They sat all night on a bench in the waiting room, hoping and praying for a miracle. Serena didn’t want to imagine life without her Jay.
At 5 AM the next day, Serena’s mum called her. Serena was needed at her parents’ place as soon as she could make it.
Serena’s father had a heart attack that morning and didn’t survive it.
The burden was too much for Serena’s frail heart. She saw her world crumbled before her eyes. Time stopped and nothing made sense.
She was devastated.
With Jay lying almost lifeless at the hospital and her father passing on just like that. He was fine the previous day. She spoke with him on the phone.
Jay was out of the hospital after three weeks. He survived.
Serena looked at her father’s grave. It was one of those that was covered with white tiles. It looked more like a white bed than a grave—if not for the light blue tiles that were used to design a cross on the grave.
Serena dropped the rose flower on the grave and raked tears off her cheeks with the edge of her veil.
She heard the footsteps, was about to turn when she caught a whiff of the lemon-scented cologne. She didn’t have to turn for her to know he was there.
Jay held her from behind. She rested her head on his broad chest. His arms around her made her feel sheltered. As though the world was a perfect place.
“Thank God he gave us his blessing before his sudden demise. Sadly, he won’t be here to walk you down the aisle tomorrow,” Jay said in a voice that was more a whisper.
“It breaks my heart that he won’t see his baby girl getting married. I know I won’t have the time after the wedding to come and say my goodbye before we travel to our new base.”
“I knew you will here. That is why I have come,” Jay said.
They clutch to each other as they walked out of the cemetery to their cars, to an unknown future. Serena didn’t care if she only spent the next day as Jay’s wife. She prayed they spend a thousand tomorrows and have children together.
But for now, they would take it one day at a time.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org