Her whole life, Oluchi watched as different family members transitioned through her home in Lagos. These cousins and uncles and aunties were dream chasers who came from the village to the land of opportunities. They were the children of old relatives who had finished from university and exhausted all the support their parents could afford. But sometimes, they were younger and needed help with even their secondary education. All the same, her parents provided for these people who in turn looked after Oluchi and her brother. When Oluchi eventually started secondary school, she was excited about her life moving on, eager even for it to move quicker still. School was in the way of her grand plans. To her friends, she was known as the one who would probably marry first because of what she told them. At twenty-one she would marry an older man who would take care of her. She would not spend years aimlessly in her parents’ house like some of those relatives had done. No, she would have her own where she would be madam. By twenty-four she would have had her second and last child. It was important for her to be a young mother so she had the energy to keep up with them. When she was ready, she would start working. Her parents always said if she made good grades, she would get a very good job after university. She would go to university abroad. Every teenage birthday was marked with longing to start this perfect life she crafted for herself.
Oluchi’s parents, her brother and a few close friends were in a private room at Nobu restaurant. They were celebrating her graduation although her party was incomplete. Oluchi expected one more person who would have been introduced to her parents as her boyfriend of two years. Ugonna, the man who was serious about marrying her. She was forced to lie to her parents about why he couldn’t come anymore. That he was still eager to meet them and promised to do so before they left for Nigeria the following week. The next day while she got ready in her flat to go out, she received a phone call from Ugonna who always Facetimed. She remembered her anger as she picked up the to yell at him for ghosting her parents and not texting with a reason. Before the heated words poured out of her mouth, she was startled mute by a ranting female voice. This voice called her a husband snatcher and a pathetic whore. This voice asked her if she was not ashamed to be spreading her legs for a married man with a newborn who was barely six-month-old. This voice told her she was Ugonna’s wife. Oluchi was warned not to try her again or see how her face would be disfigured with acid. The phone clicked shut without a single word in from Oluchi. She ran to the bathroom where her body heaved forcefully over the toilet with nothing coming out. Then she blacked out.
Suspicion plagued Oluchi’s parents when she suddenly insisted on following them back home to Nigeria. Even her mother could not get her to admit anything was wrong. She told them she just needed a break. The job she had just been offered would start in three months. Knowing she would return to London soon, she packed light. The rest of her stuff was moved from her student accommodation into a Big Yellow storage.
But Oluchi’s world refused to stop spinning even as they stepped outside Murtala Muhammed airport and even as she hid out in her childhood bedroom for days. And on her twenty-first birthday some weeks later she still wasn’t on social media to reply to the messages friends had sent her.
One day, Oluchi’s father asked when she would like him to book her return flight. She still dreaded the thought of going back there, but her job was waiting. When she opened Yahoo Mail for the first time in many weeks to re-read her offer letter, she saw a few unread emails from the company’s HR. The latest one contained the subject of the rescinded offer. The contract had expired for a while without her signing it. She had been unreachable. The company was moving on. Oluchi’s head swelled until it throbbed. When she did not come out of her room after her father’s text message asking her to come, he sent the maid. She knocked on Oluchi’s door before delivering her message from outside. Oluchi’s father finally came up and entered her room after knocking four times, and she did not respond. She was immobile. He called her his pet name for her after seeing her tear-stained face. She responded by crying harder, and the man’s heart broke before he even knew what was wrong. He rushed to cradle her in the way he remembered soothed her as a distressed infant. When she woke up from her nap, he was still there but now talking to her mother who was beside him. She felt the weight of her body as she sat up on the bed to answer their question about what was wrong. Oh my god, her mother said. It’s not the end of the world, her father said. The rest of the year is a complete blur for Oluchi.
On the last day of her twenty-third year, Oluchi is stuck in traffic at Victoria Island. She’s going home after another day from her internship at PwC where she is working for her NYSC year. The program is almost done, but she still feels largely uninspired. How did I get here? She wonders looking at the line of cars. But she is not asking about the traffic situation, which is a daily occurrence. Oluchi is searching for an elusive thing. She wants to know the loose thread life used to pull apart her plans. She thinks that finding the answer will bring closure and only then will she be able to start dreaming again.