“Love is a Bohemian child, it has never, ever, known law”
This classic opera line from Carmen’s Habanera got me thinking: Does love really know no law? Does love have no boundaries? Can we really control who to fall in love with?
I remember my very first crush. Warri 1997: I was a 10 year old primary 5 student and Common Entrance candidate who had just been signed to take extra tuition from Mr. Ederigbe’s Lesson. Yes, the place where all the spoilt kids from SNAPS, Shell, NNPC, Hilltop, Twin Fountain and some random schools around Warri were sent to perfect their Mathematical and English skills so that they could achieve excellent Common Entrance scores and make their parents proud. In other words, it was Common Entrance boot camp where we were flogged for not knowing our multiplication tables at the drop of a hat and humiliated for mixing up our English idioms.
He was one of those boys that argued about robo-cop and drew comics at the back of their exercise books during lessons. And if he ever got caught and flogged for not paying attention, he’d brave it like a man and swagger back to his seat like it didn’t faze him. To weaklings like me who cried at the mere sight of a cane, he was a real hero.
I remember the first day he spoke to me. My pen (or biro as we called it) stopped working during classwork, my pencil wasn’t sharpened and if I didn’t finish my work in 20 minutes, I was going to become the scape goat. There I was, a damsel in distress, wallowing over the possibility of receiving a few lashes from the strict Mr Ederigbe. He overheard me cry and came to the rescue,
“Don’t worry Fatima, use my sharpener,” his voice called, those dimples ever so prominent and his doe eyes full of sympathy. “He knows my name!” I cried on the inside. The classroom loomed into darkness and there we were; holding hands and prancing around a lush meadow, drunk in euphoria.
Of course at that stage of my life liking a boy was synonymous to an unforgivable sin. But then again, at that age I also believed if a boy should touch me I’d fall pregnant, my dad will kick me out of his house, and I’d be forced to live under the Ogunu flyover overpass where I’d contract a terminal disease and have to beg passersby for spare change which I’ll use to buy fried yam and akara wrapped in the newspaper that will serve as my bed and blanket at night and at the end of the day, my hopes of becoming an ice-cream tycoon will be destroyed forever. (I was one of those annoying kids that planned for the future and asked “what if” questions) He ended up being my “very good friend”. We cross checked all our homework answers together before lessons started. If any of us have forgotten our Opara or Ugo. C. Ugo, we’d share the available copy. If any of us had forgotten to do our homework, we’ d let the other copy word for word, number for number.
But as they say, the joys of love come only to depart. Soon, Common Entrance was over and I was going to be shipped off to boarding school. Different cities, different boarding schools and eventually we drifted apart. Soon we moved away from Warri and I have never heard from him since then.
Even though he pronounced chalk as “shalk”, sharpener as “chapiner” and church as “shush”, fact is an Urhobo boy was my first crush. We were from exactly opposite parts of the country. He was from the Niger-Delta i.e. south border of the country and I am from a very conservative and traditional lineage in Daura, Katsina, near the Niger border. He was bold, I was shy. (oh yes, I was). He was Christian, I was Muslim. Maybe opposites do attract.
Despite all these difference,
What if there were no obstacles?
What if I hadn’t gone off to boarding school?
What if I had still lived in Warri?
What if we became an item?
What if I took him home to my parents?
"Hi Mama, Hi Baba, I’d like you to meet my fiancé Oghene something something. He’s a petroleum engineer from Ovie Local Government in Warri South. He can sharpen a cutlass perfectly in 10 seconds and in his spare time, he likes to volunteer with the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).
I guess it’ll be safe to have an ambulance on standby. My mum may faint and my dad is a cool but hot tempered, left handed ex-athlete. It may not end well.
Truth is I’m not sure how they’d react. My parents have a reputation for being “cool and laid-back” according to my friends. I for one know they are avid believers in equal opportunity as they have preached it to us from the cradle. In fact, they frown upon even the tribalistic puns that are tolerated in normal Nigerian households. To what extent can their tolerance and open mindedness extend? I kind of tested them.
We were traveling from Daura to Kaduna and somehow, the topic of discussion was; how easy is it to get an Australian citizenship?
“Three years is not too bad if you think of it” said Daddy. “Time flies, you know?”
“Three years? I might as well just marry an Aussie man and get it over with,” I retorted.
Very awkward silence.
I decided to seize the opportunity and ask, “What if I brought home an Aussie man? Will that be a problem?”
Even more awkward silence
“Is there anything you want to tell us?” my dad asked after a long hesitation. I could tell he picked his words carefully.
“No, of course not. This is just a hypothetical situation.”
I could’ve sworn I saw my mum sigh with relief. “Well, of course we’ll try to solve it in the easiest possible manner,” she said.
“So it will be ok with you?”
“Well, I can’t say since I have never experienced it before. If the situation arises I’ll give you an answer.”
Hehehe! That’s just kind talk for “Fatima Bukar woe betide you the day you walk into my house with a foreign man!”
*sigh* it’s not like they don’t already know who I’m bringing to them.
Nevertheless, the car remained silent for the rest of the journey.
Brings me back to my Habanera line, “Love is a Bohemian child, it has never, ever, known law.” All my life I haven’t gone beyond friendship with non Muslim, non Hausa males. Like I tell my friends, if someone catches my eye, I “admire from a safe distance.” It’s not fear of the unknown, neither is it prejudice. I just like to play it safe. I’m one of those all-or-nothing people. I’d hate to fall for someone and then go a long way only to reach the finish line and then meet obstacles. I don’t want my life to pan out like a cliché romance story where boy loves girl, girl loves boy, families at conflict, boy and girl cry, cry, cry, then blow brains out. *yawn*
It’s like one of those relationships were they spend more time fighting for their relationship than actually having a relationship (cheesy line I got from Save the Last Dance, I think…). Besides I think I’m a very traditional person; whose culture will we teach our children? (all four of them 🙂 ) I’m never going to be willing to forfeit my Daura heritage and I’m sure Oghene something something has strong Urhobo convictions. It’s things like this that cause problems later on in marriage. *sigh* here I am thinking too far into the future again!
Bottom line, depending on the person, love CAN be subdued when firm and clearly cut boundaries have been made. It’s not easy at all. Probably one of the main reasons why people end up being reserved and totally removed from their communities, just like me in high school. In the end, it’s worth it in suffer-now-enjoy-later kind of way. The world is turning into a global village and children are born into heterogenous multicultural communities. It is going to become increasingly difficult for us (esp. Nigerians) to meet our parent’s stringent criteria for future partners. For most people around the world it’s the religious barrier. For us Nigerians, it’s religion, then Nationality, then tribe, then ethnic group, then (in some cases) class, then it’s the person’s family history… the list goes on. Don’t bring us up in a multicultural environment and then narrow our choices into a very small subset… It’s…. just…. makes…. it….. so….. difficult.
Lot’s of Romantic love
Fatima “Cynic” Bukar