Written by Mauryn Okunga
I eventually dropped out of school but Eric never stopped visiting me. He helped me get my first job, helped me raise rent when my uncles sold my father’s house to get school fees for my siblings. Eric held my hand when I was fired from that my first job. He helped me scan through newspaper adverts for another job.
Eric was the family I never had. He understood my tantrums and loved my laugh. So, when he announced to family and friends at his graduation party that he had found a woman to spend the rest of his life with, I was broken.
See, I secretly hoped that one day Eric would make a proposal, tell me he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. He never did, never even gave a hint that he viewed me “that way” but he was doing more than enough for me, and for that I was grateful. Even with that gratitude, I still couldn’t push back the envy and disappointment weighing me down, as he invited his wife-to-be to join him.
“Sweet heart, please come up,” he said, smiling his gaze fixed to the spot where I was. I looked behind me to see which girl had swept my Eric off the ground, but saw none. Instead, people were looking at me, clapping and nudging me off my seat.
“Dear Lord,” I prayed, “is he going to humiliate me? Am I supposed to hug his wife to be?”
I walked towards Eric like a zombie, the cheers of his family and friends propelling me forward. His mother (whom I had heard a lot about) walked up to us and hugged me. All this time, Eric watched me with an amused grin on his face. He laughed out loud when realization hit me that I had been the one he was referring to.
Eric wasn’t drop dead handsome but his imposing feature created a reassurance whenever you were with him. He had a penetrating stare but a softness to it too, that made you want to always look into his eyes. He had been brought up by his mother having lost his father to AIDS. Interestingly, Eric’s mother never had HIV and for that her late husband’s family labelled her a witch and murderer. She turned a deaf ear to their insults.
She never re-married out of respect for her husband’s memory and fear of not being so lucky with the next person. She thanked God for discordancy and channelled all her energy and resources in raising Eric.
Our wedding ceremony was small and intimate. My step sister was my maid of honour. I wished Ma or my step mother had been around to fuss over my wedding dress. Eric’s mum did the best she could to mother both of us.
Our house was small and our friends were few but we were happy with each other.
Eric got a job at a local hospital where he had interned and I worked with an NGO that cared for people living with HIV/AIDS.
One Sunday morning, a year and half into our marriage, Eric casually told me that he could not have children.
“But everything works so well, when….y’know! Are you sure?”
Eric held my hand and apologised for not sharing that information much earlier. He first got sceptical about his ability to impregnate a woman when he broke up with his first girlfriend. They had dated for six months, during which they had had only unprotected sex but she never got pregnant. Two months after their breakup, she got pregnant. Eric’s ex-girlfriend looked for him and told him to check his fertility or the lack of it, adding she had found a real man to start a family with.
Much as starting a family was not in Eric’s plan in his first year at university, he started asking questions about his fertility. He talked to his mother who confessed to having had two brothers who were infertile. She had never told him about it because she never thought it would come up. Eric ran several tests while at medical school and his condition was found to be irreversible.
“I will understand if you want children and if you leave me for a man who can give them to you,” he said.
I couldn’t speak for a while, neither could I cry. This beautiful soul who loved me more than I loved myself was hurting.
“Do you want children?”
“I dreamed of having a dozen children. I see children on the street and wish I could take them home. I want to hear someone call me Daddy. I want you to be their mummy. Yes Daphine, I want to children.”
“Let’s adopt 12 children! One at a time though…”
I knew he loved me, but I didn’t know he loved me as much as his eyes showed at that moment. He made me feel like Grandma’s Yesu from the bible who gathered children around him and loved those who didn’t have anything. It didn’t matter that I was never going to carry Eric’s child in my womb, all that mattered was Eric and his dream of having twelve children.
I closed my eyes and heard the children scream in their playroom. I could see them fighting for the last piece of bread. I loved them already.
Eric was still looking at me when I opened my eyes. Tears ran down his face, happy tears.
“Thank you Daphine. You have raised me from a burnt out infertile corpse to a man.”
I hoped Ma and Grandma were listening, and smiling down at us that moment.