That round-mouthed surprise a woman shows (is supposed to show?) when a man proposes has always annoyed and puzzled me. Surely a couple whose relationship is strong must have talked about marriage instead of following the script of the silly ‘ambush question’ from the man and then the woman’s response of grateful surprise as if she were receiving a glorious gift she had never imagined would be hers. Are you smiling reading this? It’s not funny-oh! So, really, why was I surprised when you sent me that ridiculous text? We had talked about marriage, hadn’t we? Well, you had mostly. Still, reading your — do you think we can begin to discuss the possibility of getting married soon? — I felt first surprised, then amused, then frightened and then this stupid crazy joy that I still feel.

You know, you’re wrong when you say that it’s remarkable how similar we are. Of course we are similar — except for the little fact that I am significantly more attractive — but it isn’t remarkable at all. Many other children of Nigerian academics read Enid Blyton and wondered what the heck ginger beer was; read every single book in the Pacesetters series; and read every James Hadley Chase. These are not at all proof of how right we are for each other — if they were, then you would be right for one out of every two campus-raised women I know. Your father graduated from Ibadan only two years before my father did. If your family hadn’t left Nigeria just before the war we might even have grown up together in Nsukka and maybe all of this marriage talk wouldn’t be going on because we would have known each other too well, you would have been my brother Okey’s friend from secondary school and you would always see me as Okey’s scrawny little sister. So no, there’s nothing remarkable about our shared interests. But the day you told me that your favourite part of Mass, the only reason you still go to Mass sometimes, is when the priest says ‘as we wait in joyful hope’, I was startled. I didn’t tell you then because the coincidence seemed a little too pat but it’s my favourite part of mass too. O di egwu!

So since your text came yesterday, I have been recalling the ways we are different, how you like beans and macho novels and the rainy season and I don’t. It’s suddenly important to me that we not be too similar. You know I have always been suspicious of anything close to perfection, anything too neatly put together. Always wanting to find bumps in smooth surfaces, as you tell me. It frightens me, how easily I now speak in the first-person plural. Yesterday, just before you sent the text, Aunty Adaeze called me and asked whether I would get leave for Christmas to go to the village. I said that we were hoping to get time off until after New Year’s so we could go to Uche’s wine-carrying and return to Lagos in January. She started laughing and said, ‘Ah, I asked about you and you are telling me “we”.’ After I hung up, I began to think about how used to you I am and began to wonder how many other times I had said ‘we’ without even realising it.

Yesterday, too, I realised that I have never told you how much I like you — this before your text, by the way. Love is different. Love is ridiculous. Love can just happen, as it did to you when you saw me and asked Ifeanyi to introduce us (exactly seventeen months and three days ago) and to me as you tried to charm me with your watery knowledge of Achebe’s work, but like requires reason. And yesterday I marvelled at how much I have come to like you. I like that you know when to leave and quietly shut my door and that when you do I never worry that you are not coming back. I like your cooking (I have never complimented you because I keep imagining those silly women who over-praise men for cooking, and those silly mothers who like to say, ‘My son can cook-oh, so no woman will use food to tempt him’). I like the way your butt looks in your jeans, that flat elegance that you don’t like me to point out, and I like that you make futile attempts at the gym to grow muscles we both know you never will and I like that you underline sentences in books to show me. I like that you like me and that your liking me makes me like myself.

I will, by the way, never write anything like this to you again. So smile all you want now, atulu. I remember when I was a kid, reading books in small dusty Nsukka, and often encountering characters eating bagels. It was an elegant word, bagel. I wanted desperately to have a bagel. Years later, in New York City (on our first visit to America as a family), I was flattened to discover that a bagel is a dense doughnut. I imagine you saying ‘From where to where with this story?’ as you read this. Well, my point is that I never wanted marriage and so perhaps it will turn out to be something good, unlike the bagel which I wanted and which turned out to be remarkably boring.

I have been reading your text over and over since yesterday and I have never felt so alive. So, yes, I suppose we should begin to talk of the possibility of getting married soon.


from Four Letter Word: New Love Letters, edited by Rosalind Porter and Joshua Knelman [Chatto and Windus, 2007]