We Were Married

Truth in Fiction


Dans un café, un couple divorcé se retrouve. L'occasion de refaire l'histoire de ce mariage raté en attendant. Mais en attendant quoi d'ailleurs ?

‘What were we thinking?’ she asked, her eyes fixed on her mug of coffee, face pinched with disdain.

He stared at the same cup with a rueful smile ‘It was the eighties,’ he said ‘we were young.’

‘But we were friends, such good friends’ her voice was still raw from the unfairness of the whole thing ‘You borrowed me school fees money for final year, I used to come and cook for you and your housemates, and we talked about everything, remember?’ she looked up from the cup to his eyes ‘What happened to us?’

He shrugged ‘We thought we understood each other so well and everybody wanted to know why we were not married already’ he looked out the glass screen into the cold wintry night ‘love obliterates everything. It was the eighties and when you are in love in the eighties you get married. So we did’ his gaze returned to her cup and the bitter smile to his face ‘then we stopped understanding’.

‘Love obliterates everything’ she echoed, gently wringing a knot out of her neck encased in purple turtle neck with both hands, looking at his face for the first time.

He sat up and looked at her square in the face ‘But you’ve fallen in love again’ he chased her eyes down and caught it before it could escape into the cup of coffee. She was too stunned at the question to reply. She took the cup in both hands and brought it to her lips, eyes shut. He considered perhaps he’d been too harsh so he added ‘with a nice man.’

She barely swallowed before replying, some of the bitter sweetness still in her mouth ‘of course he is nice, or else I would not have left you for him’ some driver started horning repeatedly in the driveway and they both turned to look through the glass screen at the flashing headlights ‘I am just joking o RMD I was just joking’ her voice grew distant ‘I left you a long time ago’ she turned to look at two white drivers shouting now at each other in the snow, vituperations muffled by the glass. She returned to his face and found him looking at her. She felt she had to explain ‘It was in our early thirties, that time you were teaching in that God-forsaken polytechnic, those months when we had sex all over the place.’

He smiled at his own cup remembering ‘we left notes everywhere. When one of us found a note we’d immediately stop what we were doing and meet at the location in the note’ she giggled ‘office cleaning, car wash, kitchen appliance. I remember one of my students found your kitchen appliance note on my desk’ he was breathless with laughter ‘I had to explain-’

‘O my God stop!’ she was laughing too.

‘-bathroom shower, choir store room-’

‘O my God we did it in St. Tansi?’ he nodded and her hands flew to her mouth ‘O my God.’

‘-Library study-’

‘I could never understand why you left the Library note for me all the time.’

‘It was a peaceful quiet place.’

‘As it was supposed to be!’ she shook her head ‘You just loved breaking the law.’

He shrugged with his adolescent smile that she now realised he will carry to the grave ‘I loved breaking the law with you.’

‘Anyway!’ she said a bit too loud ‘anyway I was dusting those cushions in our small apartment in Obalende and then I saw a note for Library, or was it Kitchen?’ her eyes flew to the ceiling for an answer then returned ‘No, it was Library. You always chose Library. Anyway I was excited as usual,’ he rolled his eyes ‘I was. Every time. Come on RMD you know I always loved surprises. Anyway even though I was excited that day I remember feeling a little sad that it wasn’t really a surprise anymore. I woke up every morning knowing a note with a venue for love will happen to me either by my doing or yours. And yours will always be that school library.’

He grimaced ‘but we went to the State Library once.’

‘A library is a library!’ she snapped ‘it wasn’t even the monotony of our spontaneity that bored me in the end, it was well,’ she looked out the glass again ‘the curve of your thing’ his eyes narrowed into slits and she continued in a half-amused half-apologetic voice ‘you know what I’m talking about!’

‘You said,’ he took a sip of his coffee, eyes still on her ‘you said you liked it’ he dropped his cup and sighed at it and said ‘women’.

‘I do!’ his eyebrows flared ‘I mean sorry don’t be silly, I mean I did. But women process all these things differently from men. As I dusted those dusty cushions that day it dawned on me that I will spend the rest of my life being bludgeoned by that curved thing in weird places.’
Everybody was looking at them now so that they were reminded that they were Nigerians. Probably the only ones in this American coffee shop.

‘So you wanted something different,’ his voice a harsh whisper ‘well you could have just told me, hell, I could have allowed that our he-goat neighbour that you were always ogling at have you for some days, those early days I loved you that much, would have done or let you do anything to be happy, so long as you were happy with me…’ he bent low over the table and glanced sideways then turned to her and pointed his right hand to his chest ‘me! I wanted you to be happy with me.’

She was startled. Everyone back home was saying they had become too American, in the way they talked and the way they dressed, that even Nigerians in America dressed in a way you could easily identify. She had thought all that was rubbish, but now listening to his outburst, she wondered how many Nigerian men back home would be happy to share their wives with other men if it made the wives happy. She didn’t dwell on the thought too long.

‘It wasn’t just that, there were other things! Like the way your students treated you in that place, the terror of cultists, remember what they did to the neighbour you are accusing me of ogling at almost two decades later eh. And you never wanted to leave. I knew, we both knew you could get a better lecturing Job in the US but you insisted on staying in that shanty town. As for the thing…’ she rolled her eyes and he almost laughed at how ridiculous it was that she was rolling her eyes at her age ‘well I haven’t not met any man after who didn’t have a bent thing’ she looked out the glass screen at the light snow falling outside and shuddered ‘I think the “Good Guy” I’m with now is the worst. I really started thinking of coming back to you after the second guy,’ her voice grew small ‘just wasn’t sure you would take me back, I was your first love, I ruined love for you.’

‘I would have taken you back.’

There was a long moment of silence and the snow fall increased outside, almost obliterating the night. She finished up her coffee.

‘Any way thank God I am in love now.’

His wry smile returned as he stirred the teaspoon in his empty cup ‘after how many of us?’
She laughed so loud that she had to cover her face for fear of attracting the crowd’s angst again ‘four’ she said giggling. When her laugh subsided she became serious ‘you, how many?’



‘You just admitted that you ruined love for me.’

‘Is a lie! You men are different, your bodies cannot just-’ she wringed the air in frustration ‘you are men!’ she finally let out ‘My mother’s twin sister…’

‘Aunty Obiageli.’

‘Yes, remember I told you last year that she died on her way to her son’s second wedding?’

‘Yes, yes, yes I remember, I talked to him on the phone. They had to postpone the wedding.’

‘Exactly!’ her eyes were lit ‘His first wife had not been dead for up to two weeks when he got a new one and a traditional wedding date was set. After burying his mother he waited for just one week to resume his second wedding ceremony. When I questioned him about the rush he said “Aunty eh, all this things that have happen to me I need comfort” but I asked myself, who comforted his mother for those forty something years after his father died? After his father no other man, and he can testify to this, no other man crossed her bedroom door,’ she smiled as he shook his head, knowing she had won ‘so don’t tell me anything about ruining love for you. I know men very well.’

‘Fine. You win but this one doesn’t qualify as anything.’

‘Tell me, tell me, tell me!’

‘There was one girl.’

‘Just one girl?’ she shook her head ‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Fine, we can change the topic.’

‘No, no, no I believe you please tell me,’ she grabbed his hands across the table ‘tell me!’

‘She was one of my students.’


‘I’m not talking again.’

‘Please I swear I will be quiet now. My mouth is zipped. Which university? I am sure it was from your university days, I’m sure.’

‘Why are you so sure?’

‘You will never cheat on me. And once I left you left the polytechnic to lecture in ABU Zaria. Was it there?’

‘No’ he looked at the mug ‘Berkeley. A White girl. Twenty at the time.’

‘What!’ then she caught his eyes and apologised ‘My mouth is zipped.’

‘I wasn’t really looking for anything you know. And at first I thought she was too young. When I got over that I thought it was a race thing. I’m sure you know how whites behaved in those days when you first got here…’ he intoned a whiny voice ‘Can I help you with that? Are you going somewhere? Are you lost? You know?’ she laughed and he smiled too. At his cup. It was good to experience her laugh ‘But then I wasn’t Black American, I even shunned those Pan-African lecturer unions and Africans-in-Diaspora shit.’

‘The point RMD.’

‘Well that’s the point.’


‘She had a crush on RMD.’


‘Her Nigerian roommate brought one of his video cassettes all the way from home and before long the whole department started calling me RMD,’ he looked up from his cup to her with such a brilliant flash of hatred in his eyes that she shivered ‘you shouldn’t have started that name. I warned you that it would stick.’

‘It is not my fault! You look like him, ask any Nigerian. Coming to think of it,’ she said laughing ‘you look like him at every age! And those are your initials. Blame your parents for that not me. Anyway joor, continue.’

‘I was in my 30s? Anyway my only problem was when she wanted to keep me after getting married to a fine young vet. Her ‘African obsession’ she called me.’

She exclaimed ‘what!’ and just then a waitress with freckles on her fresh pale face stopped at their booth ‘would you be needing anything more?’

‘No!’ they chorused. Then looked at each other and broke into laughter.

‘No thank you’ he quickly added as soon as he could speak.

The girl who couldn’t have been more than eighteen looked like she was suffering from a bout of constipation ‘well it’s just my boss-you’ve been here for more than an hour now and only ordered two cups of coffee without sugar so-’

‘So?’ interjected the woman. ‘We were married.’

The man sighed.

‘I understand. But my boss was wondering-’

‘Get us two more mugs of coffee’ he intervened, touching the waitress on the arm lightly and flashing the girl his most winning smile ‘is that okay?’

She nodded with a smile full of gratitude, locked eyes with the woman briefly before collecting the empty cups and walking away, her ponytail bouncing after her.

‘You still do that thing’ she said to the glass screen as the snowfall waned outside.

‘What thing?’ he genuinely wanted to know.

‘Never mind.’

They resumed their silence, both staring out the glass screen. The snow fall had cleared. A young black man, his mixed race twins whose genders couldn’t be guessed from the distance and his very pregnant white wife emerged from a blue truck and made for the coffee shop, all mummified in matching wool caps and parkas and boots. They watched them grow bigger and bigger until they disappeared briefly and appeared inside the coffee shop. He caught the smell of smoke when the man walked past, then a whiff of vanilla as the woman pushed the waist high twins past him. Boys he realised. ‘I always thought you left me for America.’ He said.


‘I always thought you left me for your American dreams.’

She smiled sadly, still looking out the glass screen. The waitress brought the cups of coffee and she tried to smile at her apologetically but the waitress turned on her heel and left. She sighed and said to him ‘Now America has both of us.’


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