Sanni Omodolapo

My girlfriend cannot eat cereal because of her ex Tunji. We have been talking about Tunji more than I want to. He keeps coming up in conversations, rearing his head, making things difficult. 

She says Tunji scarred her but, from what I have seen, things I have heard her say, what she really means is that he left a mark on her. Because of him, she cannot eat cereal, does not like to be kissed on the forehead, wants a clean, well-lighted house with a dishwasher, and wants to be eaten out. I am left to deal with hunger I know nothing of. And I don’t mind that, but nothing I do counts. I always fall short in some way. What they had was special. We will never have what they had, no matter how much I try, no matter how attentive I am. His mark on her is a testament – painful, persistent testament– to the places I will never be able to reach with her, the depths we will never touch. 

Ours is a young love, very naïve, very undisguised, yet deeply tainted. Fierce, too. Though not fierce enough. Not nearly as fierce as what she had with him. There is also the advantage of time and proximity. For years, I lived very far from her, and time was one thing we never had a lot of, and they had that, or have had that, abundantly. More than once, she has, without noticing how it makes me feel, talked about waking up at his house every morning, and every time my mind runs: crusty-eyed, morning-breath-scented kisses, she in his bed, luxuriating, after he has gone to work, or on a run, in a few extra hours of sleep; the afternoons spent cooking and making out on the kitchen cabinet, wrapped in light; and dinner in a house all theirs, maybe a movie playing on the Smart TV, and both of them in bed, he keeping her warm, she warm against him, snug under the blankie (that is how she says blanket), perhaps even falling fast asleep in his arms. 

I cannot hold her for two straight minutes without her recoiling. She says she is getting used to being held like that again, that it is going to take some time, that I just have to be patient with her. She loves me and is doing her best. 

On the phone tonight, I ask if she would ever eat cereal. 

“Never,” she says, “you know the story behind it.”

She always assumes I know things. The truth is she is the first girl I have ever loved this much, and I am so scared of losing her that I would rather let her go on assuming than say something that’d lead to a fight, and sometimes that gives her the right. 

Even though I am jealous of the mark he left on her, of how he lingers several months later, how she has not recovered and may never recover from Tunji, I cannot show it. She says it’s just one of those things, that I should not overthink. 

When she talks about Tunji, whenever he comes up in conversations, her eyes go soulful. I cannot tell if she is thinking about the pain of things going sour between them, or if she is maybe mourning the loss of what they had. Maybe there is a part of her that would rather be with him than with me, because she still keeps pictures of him, of them. Maybe being with me is a mistake: that would make more sense, and, in that case, it’d be better if she just makes that clear, save me the agony of constantly measuring myself against this fly on the wall. 

Her eyes go all sad and soulful and I have to remind her that what we have matters, that it is special. I am doing all I can. But it is not enough. 

We are on the phone one evening and she says she has to go. “I’ll call you back, she says. “I need to pick something downstairs.”

She does not call until it is dark outside and my neighbors’ generators are going. Her voice is a counterpoint to the noise of the generators. I hear her sigh, and I know what it means when she sighs, so I ask, “What’s going on?”

She hesitates, the line goes quiet, then her voice returns. 

“When you say honest how honest do I have to be with you?” she asks. 

I say, “Anything you feel comfortable sharing. I mean, I want to know everything, but anything you feel comfortable sharing.” 

Then she tells me that she went downstairs to get a package Tunji sent via courier but met him downstairs waiting by his red Tundra with a plastic bag. He had found, while moving things around in his house, some of her dresses, three of them, and had called, days prior, to ask if she wanted them or if he should dispose of them. And she had given him her address, thinking nothing of it. I consider the music of Tunji and Tundra as she talks. I listen but say nothing. She continues: “I was stunned. I really didn’t expect to see him. I was wondering why he came over, why he did not just send it via courier as he suggested. I felt so stupid, giving him my address so cheaply. I felt stupid.” 

I say nothing. 

She continues: “When I asked what he was doing at my house he called me stupid. He said he didn’t expect that I’d still be so stupid – you can imagine – that he was here already and that ought to count for something … Babe?” 

There’s a catch in my throat. I cough and say, “Yes, yes, I’m listening, I’m listening.” 

“I’m sorry,” she says. 

“For what?”

“I don’t want you to have to deal with this.” 

“With what?” 

“This,” she says, and we both go quiet. 

After some time she hangs up. And I, with my blizzard of emotions, lay on my low bed in the dark and wait for morning to come. I wake up from a dream at 2 a.m. in which I had saved a little girl from a kidnapper and the kidnapper, pissed, had bitten me in the back. My back is sore. There are calls from my girlfriend and many texts saying my silence scares her.  ▪  

Cover image: Peruvian sculpture held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, CCO, via Wikimedia Commons.