“Sweetheart, you will find a man who is worthy of you. I didn’t invest this much in you, to give you off to some riffraff. You deserve more”. I think that was the eighteenth thousandth time I was listening to my dada repeat these same words since I turned eighteen.
My name is Frances Anita Iheanacho. I’m not your everyday kinda girl, thanks to my dad. I’m 22 years old, and I have a Ph.D. in applied physics from Yale. Can you imagine that? I know you can’t. I graduated from High School at the age of 14, got accepted into Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study Applied Physics¸ by the time I turned 18, I had graduated summa cum laude from MIT. My dad was proud of me, but he wasn’t through with me yet. Dada asked me to apply for my Masters immediately, and that was how I got into Princeton, where I did my masters in Quantum Physics. Now, I’m 22 years of age, I work for NASA and I’m both an alumnus of MIT, Princeton and Yale, and one of the youngest African ladies to have achieved such in the US.
All through my years as a student, I had never dated a guy. My dada wouldn’t put up with such frivolities. To him, that’s all it was – FRIVOLITY. My roommates called me the most beautiful girl who had never been on a date in her life. They were right. I wasn’t your average nerd who wore glasses and had braces supporting their teeth; I was very stylish, elegant and beautiful.
Well, It’s hard to understand the kind of man my father is except I tell you a little about him. Dad had migrated from Nigeria to the US in 1969. As a young man, he did any job he could to keep body and soul together. It was an era when the blacks really had no rights and privileges as they do today, so dad worked so hard but was he being paid less than he deserved. Dad’s hard work paid off after two years; he was offered a job as the head cleaner at Professor Erwin’s residence, the dean of the Humanities Department at Harvard University.
Professor Erwin was the most diligent man dad had seen in his life. It didn’t matter how early dad got up to begin cleaning the house when he got to the study, Professor Erwin was there poring over several academic materials. It also didn’t matter how late at night it was, If Professor Erwin was at home, you are certain to find him in the study. The widowed man had no time for other things except to read, lecture and write papers. Because of dad’s diligence, Professor Erwin took a special interest in him, and in no time, they had formed the weirdest of friendships – a cleaner and a professor as best friends. That friendship paid off soon. Dad suddenly developed a hunger for books, and then he wanted to get a degree, and Professor Erwin offered him the financial support he needed to achieve that.
My father has 16 years of higher education – A degree in Chemistry, and another in Philosophy, two Masters Degrees, and a Ph.D. I know what you must think. That’s what everyone thought too; even Professor Erwin – what kind of insatiable hunger for books had he developed? At age 42, dad was the first black man appointed as a senior lecturer at Howard University. It was at that year dad met my mum at the Kappa Alpha fraternity gathering on campus. They had their first date a week later, and by the end of that year, they married each other. You see, daddy only went on a date because he had become an achiever and was ready to get married. My father never stopped reading. It was a good thing that my mother was a lot like him; they spent the best of times together in the study. At 50 years of age, dad had become the dean of the Physical Sciences Department at Howard University, a visiting lecturer at Havard and Oxford Universities, and the list of achievements kept growing. Not only was my father the first Arochukwu man to have achieved such in the entire US, he was also the first black man in the history of Howard University to become a dean. You see, my dad’s success was a result of much hard work and countless hours spent in his 4 by 12 study. So, he had become a preacher of hard work, spreading the news all over.
As an Ada, what would you expect of me? It had to be like father like daughter. So I kept taking all the awards for academic excellence ever since I could spell my name, up till I got out of Yale. I have had several young men ask me out on a date since I turned eighteen, but daddy hadn’t found one that was worthy enough. These guys couldn’t just please dad, and even now that I’m 22, none still can. Well, you’d wonder why I need my father’s approval to go on a date. The answer is this: All my life, I have lived in my father’s blueprints and walked in his steps. And now, it’s hard for me to get out from under his shadow.
I can remember the last five guys that came to ask my father if they could take me out on a date. Those guys don’t even talk to me again because of their experience with my father.
Most of the guys don’t even last 5 minutes with dad before he’s done with them. I remember the last guy that came….
“Hello Dad, meet Iheanyi Achinivu,” I said, smiling.
“Hello, Iheanyi!” Daddy responded, “Where are you from?”
“I’m Nigerian, I hail from Mbaise in Imo State. It’s a beautiful State, our governor is transforming it to one of the cleanest states in the country. He is trying to bring in foreign investors….” Iheanyi said, thinking that his knowledge of the happenings in his state would impress my professor father.
“Who asked you for all these details? A simple question and you would soon tell me who the Eze of your village is.” Daddy responded.
“So, what was the best day of your life?” Dad enquired.
That was an awkward question to ask someone you just met. Shouldn’t dad be asking him something like ‘how are you?’ But that’s how my father is – very unpredictable.
“The day I saw Justin Bieber live in concert,” Iheanyi replied.
I bowed my head immediately Iheanyi said that I knew it was over. He was going to be walking out the front door in a few minutes. Why didn’t this young man just say ‘the day he understood Einstein’s law of relativity or the first day he could explain syzygy’?
“Ima na Idi iberibe?” Dad said with a smile to Iheanyi.
Iheanyi was born in the US and didn’t really understand Igbo, so he smiled back at my father too… “Yes, sir… it was a great day!” Iheanyi said.
“Ibu onye Mbaise, a gam asi gi mba ugboro ise.” My father replied and walked away.
“What did your father say?” Iheanyi asked curiously.
“I think he likes you a lot. It’s best I don’t interpret it. Just come back some other day when he is in a good mood.” I replied and escorted him out the door. I really wondered if there was going to be a day I find that handsome prince who will be all that I have hoped for. I really began to doubt it. Was I going to marry the son of the great Einstein, so that daddy would be assured that I had made the right choice?
“Could I talk to you?” Frances asked, looking a little worried.
“Sure sweetheart, you know you can always talk to me.”
“What was it about dad that made you to fall in love with him?”
Mrs. Iheanacho laughed and then smiled, and then she laughed again. Your father was nothing like the kind of man I wanted to marry when I was a little girl. On the scale of David Beckham to Ben Affleck, he comes nowhere close. Neither was he athletic. But he was a rough black diamond, and I could see the beauty inside. I saw a pure hunger in him, one not willing to be satisfied with anything else but success. Your father didn’t even know how to start the conversation with me when we met at the fraternity party. He had to get a little help from the professor supervising my thesis. But being a quick learner, our first date was lovely. It took me a few weeks to work on his looks and change his wardrobe, and suddenly, he became one of the best-looking lecturers on campus. He became my Ben Affleck.
“But why is dad so concerned about who I date or marry. How smart does he have to be? How many masters does he need, to have to impress daddy?”
Mrs. Iheanacho smiled, and just kept smiling. That didn’t go down well with Frances who expected that her mom should somehow influence how things play out.
“When you meet HIM, you would know, daddy would know, I would know and even the very air you breathe would know that you have found that special one.”
Well, I had to keep on waiting for that day. Maybe it would come when I was 60 years old and a Nobel laureate or Special Adviser to the American Government on space projects.
Have I told you anything about my siblings?
I have two brothers; Mozilla and Firefox. My father named them after two famous internet browsers. Don’t ask me why I really don’t know. But what I can tell you is that they are the smartest kids I have seen in my life. At age 14, they had aced every A-level test there was, and were sophomore students at Harvard University, studying Genetics and Molecular biology. They were destined to out-do my father’s achievements in every way.
“Sweetheart, will you go with me to the fraternity party tonight?” Dad asked me, hoping I’d say yes.
“No, dad. Thanks.” I’m already super-smart and I have a smart television, I’ve got smartphones, smart parents, smart siblings and the last thing I want tonight is to be around some set of smart university kids and professors.” I replied, bluntly.
“We might just find HIM there you know.” My father replied.
“Thanks, dad. But if I wanted to marry Einstein Jr., I have got a lot of them at NASA. I’ll rather find HIM at the park, church, or a basketball game.”
Daddy just smiled, gave me a peck on the cheek and walked away. I knew he meant well and really wanted to see me happy.
It’s Saturday, 5th February 2009, and It’s 15 days to my birthday. Everyone keeps asking me what I want for my birthday. Would it be silly if I said that I want a man? Someone who would love me just for me? Not necessarily because I’ve got a Job with NASA or because I am worth almost a million bucks. But because I’m just a young lady with hazel eyes, pink lips, and a smiling face, annoying and emotional too. Well, no one expects me to be in need of a man especially when I still have lots of suitors, all wanting to take me out on a date. Dear lord, I pray I find him and I hope my father likes him.
“Hey Mozilla, wanna go with me to Nigeria?”
“Why in the world would I ever want to do that?” Mozilla replied.
“You know, this is the first time I have ever heard you give a dumb answer. Is that not your motherland?”
“If your mother was born in America and has lived here all her life, this is her motherland by all legal and natural standards. I’m from California. Thank you!”
“Ok, your royal smartness. I was thinking about going to Nigeria for the first time. I was wondering if you or Firefox would like to join me on this trip.” I asked, already expecting the answer I got.
“Have you even told dad? If I know you very well, you plan to take some days off in a few days for this trip. I don’t want to go, I really doubt that Firefox would be interested either. We’ve got so many science projects to work on. That’s a frivolity we can’t afford at the moment.”
“You are beginning to sound a lot like dad, you little Einstein. Mozilla Iheanacho will you gerrrrrout of my room now.” I ordered in a joking tone.
“Hehehe… I will, but you will be in my room soon, asking me to help you do something.” Mozilla replied and walked out laughing.
But Mozilla was right. That was an on-spot idea, and I hadn’t even discussed it with dad and mom. Do I really want to go to Nigeria on my own, for the first time in my life? That was a rhetorical question I asked myself.
“I was thinking about going to Nigeria this week. Maybe to spend a few days and see what motherland looks like, and I hope to come back before my birthday.”
“You have my blessings and support.” My Father replied.
That response was too good to be true. I could see the sparks of light in his eyes. I guess he had always wanted me to go to Nigeria but had never offered to take me there. Well, he hadn’t been there either since he got to the US. I was a little surprised how he agreed so easily. Well, I was 22, and a big girl.
“Thank you, daddy”
*Trip to Nigeria*
I arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on the 7th of Feb 2009. The weather was warm, and it was raining. It was a total adventure. I had pleaded with my father not to call any of my uncles or cousins to pick me up at the airport. I just wanted to see what it felt like to be alone in Nigeria. I got out of the terminal when the rains subsided and there were almost ‘a million’ taxi drivers wanting to take me to my destination.
“Sheraton!” I called out to a quiet driver who was standing alone close to the mosque outside the airport.
“Madam.. you wan go, Sheraton?”
“I thought I just told you that already,” I asked him politely.
I doubt he could understand me because of my accent. The next thing he said was “Madam, enter car make we go. Na only N4,500.” Well, I didn’t know how far the journey was or if it that was a fair price. But I had exchanged $5,000 at Al Mansur Bureau de change inside the airport, so I just threw my knapsack into the car and hopped in.
The driver kept fiddling with the radio, looking for some local music. But he seemed not to like any of the songs playing. So, he just settled on one of the stations. That station was playing a song by Veridia, and the next song was by Keane, and then Switchfoot. Wow! I was so happy I just kept singing along. We got to Sheraton, and I gave the cabby N10,000. The extra money was for not fiddling with the radio when those lovely songs were playing. I walked in and booked a classic room. It was quite expensive, but money wasn’t an issue.
“Hello!” I said to the guy trying to get into the room opposite mine. He said hello back and pushed the door open and stepped in without even looking at me. Well, I felt that was a little cold, but not enough to judge what my experience would be like with others. I was starving and quickly placed an order for some Chinese over the phone. I remembered I had not called dad and mum, so I connected my iPhone to the wireless network, and then I skyped both of them. And then I ate, had my bath and also had my first night sleep in Nigeria.
The next day, I got off the bed at 6:05 am. I had 12 hours of non-stop sweet sleep. I got down on my knees and read my bible, and then I prayed. I got into my Nike sportswear and was off to the gym.
“Sorry please, where do you have the dumbbells?” I asked the man who seemed to be in charge of the gym. He pointed towards a section, very close to where the treadmills were lined up. I walked over there and picked a dumbbell suitable for my weight and then I worked out my muscles for some time before moving over to the treadmill. After about 30 minutes, I was done working out and I felt sore. So, I just walked over to the lobby and sat there. A well-dressed tall young man came and sat beside me. He had a pen in his hand and seemed to be scribbling some ideas or something else on a notepad.
“Hello!” I said to him.
“Hello!” He replied with a warm smile.”
“’I’m Onuegbe.” He replied.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, it’s interpreted as – nuzzle of a gun. So you can call me Mak-4, Nuzzle-man or Onu-E.”
“That’s very funny. I think I’d prefer to call you Onuegbe. What made your father name you that?”
“I really can’t explain the story behind the name. But he named me after someone he loves and respects a lot.”
“I see. Nice name.”
“Where are you from?” Onuegbe asked Frances.
“I’m from Ibom, that’s in Arochukwu, Abia State. You wouldn’t know much about my village, it’s a small scenic village with a lot of palm trees and I think a few beaches and rich architectural history.”
Onuegbe paused for a second, turned to look at her, and then he started laughing.
“Have you ever been there?” He asked me, having a smirk on his face.
“Well, I really can’t say yes or no. You see…..” Frances said, trying to wriggle her way out of the question.
“It’s obvious that you haven’t been there. That’s my village. It’s a nice place, but you made it sound like you were talking about Seychelles or Maldives instead.”
“Well, this is actually my first time in Nigeria.”
“Wow! You are welcome home. So, tell me a little about you, if you don’t mind.” Onuegbe asked.
“You are a stranger, so I’ll prefer if you tell me about yourself first. And I really don’t want to scare you with details about me.” Frances replied.
“You can’t scare me; but if that’s how you want it… I was born in Plateau state in Nigeria. My father is from Arochukwu, and my mother is from Cross River. I graduated from Cambridge with honors a few weeks ago.” Onuegbe said and paused, expecting Frances to somehow be impressed by the fact that he was an alumnus of Cambridge. “Ever heard of Cambridge?” He asked her.
“Sure. You must be so intelligent to have made it there.”
“Yes, that’s what everyone says about me.”
“So, ride on… What sports do you like? What do you do with your spare time?” Frances asked.
“Well, I watch soccer a lot. I’m a poet; I read a lot of poems, and write too when I have spare time”
“Who is your favorite poet?”
“Edgar Allen Poe or Khalil Gibran I would say.”
“Can you quote one of their poems by heart?”
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
He quoted it with so much emotion that Frances was almost moved to tears. “That’s such a beautiful poem. You quoted it like you were the author. Would you quote one of yours please?”
“Sure, I would like to. It’s titled DORIS;
Love used to live on hope street,
But she moved away.
Now the days are long And the nights even longer.
So, I moved into her house on hope street,
Just to remember her once more.
The memories were lucid, I knew they would last forever.
So, while she was away, I slept in her bed, ate her food, wore her perfume.
Talked in her voice, Laughed like she would, and then I cried all alone.
Looked out the window a time or two, Hoping the horns were the sound of her car.
But love used to live on hope street, not anymore.”
Tears rolled down his cheek as he said the last words.
“There’s something about that poem that makes you sad. I could feel it in your voice.” Frances said.
“I wrote that poem for the queen of my heart. But she moved away… Can I not say much about it please?”
“Sure. I respect your wishes.”
“Now, will you tell me about you?”
“Alright. I was born and raised in New York, but I hail from Arochukwu, just like you. I’ve got a Ph.D. in Applied Physics, and I work with NASA, and I am just 22.”
“You are lying, right?”
“You can google my name.”
“What’s your full name?”
“Frances Anita Iheanacho,” Onuegbe responded by pulling out his iPhone 4 and searching for the name.
Wow! Wow!! Wow!!! He screamed as he saw the various news articles, and several pictures pop up.
“I told you I didn’t want to scare you,” Frances said and stood up to walk away.
“Can I have your number?” Onuegbe asked.
“You haven’t earned it.” Frances replied with a smile, and then she walked away.”
The next day, I was back to the gym by the same time as the previous day. When I was done with my exercise routine, I wanted to go sit at the lobby again, but as I moved closer, I saw Onuegbe seated. So I quickly turned around and went opposite direction.
The day after that, I was eating at Obudu Grill House, one of the restaurants in Sheraton. While I was half-way through my meal, Onuegbe walked in. On sighting him, I got up and rushed to the restroom, and remained there for about ten minutes, and then coming out quietly, peeping to see if he was still there. On returning to the table, I had lost the desire to keep eating, so I just gulped down the rest of the Chapman, and then she settled the bill and returned to my room.
Three days later, I walked out of my room and Onuegbe was walking out of the room opposite mine.
“Is you stalking me?” I asked, frowning my face. “I seem to find you everywhere I go. Now, you have decided to move into the room opposite mine.”
“Thank God I found you.”
“What did you say?”
“No, I meant good afternoon. How are you?”
“I’m fine, what are you doing here?”
“I’ve been lodged here for the past few days. I have some Job interviews with a few Multinational companies this week, and the next too.”
“Were you lodged in this room last Friday?” I asked.
“Yes, I was. Why?”
“So, you were the one I said hello to, and you gave me a cold shoulder? That’s great. So, have a great day.” I said and was about to walk off when Onuegbe halted me.
“Will you have dinner with me tonight?”
“No, thank you,” I replied and walked away.
I seem not to understand this lady, but she seems interesting. Onuegbe said and walked the opposite way to use the stairs.
I got into the elevator and began to make my way to the ground floor. It was then she suddenly realized that even though dada had not been here to say no, I had taken his place and was saying no to the first offer I had the power to decide over. As soon as the elevator touched the ground floor, I pushed the button and began to go back up. Walking out the elevator, I shouted Onuegbe several times, but the hallway was quiet. “I guess I blew it.”
Going back to the ground floor, I hurried towards the parking lot to get a cab driver who would take me shopping for African artifacts I could take back to the US the next day. As the car I was in was about to leave the parking lot, I saw Mak-4 walking very fast towards the gate.
“Hurry up!” I said to the cabby, hoping I could catch up with Mr. Onuegbe. So the driver quickly reversed and zoomed off. I was sweaty and tensed, not knowing if she was about doing the right thing.
“Hey, Mak-4,” I said, looking out the window towards where Onuegbe stood. “Pick me up by 7:00 pm. Don’t keep a lady waiting.” I said and then wound her window up. My heart was racing, and I was excitedly nervous. Looking at Mak-4 through the wound up window, I could see that he had a smile on his face, and that made me happy.
At 6:59 pm, there was a gentle tap on the door.
“Yes, who’s that?” I asked.
“Never keep a gentleman waiting,” Onuegbe replied.
“Ooo, I’m so sorry.” I rushed to open the door. Onuegbe handed me a bouquet of beautiful red roses.
“They are so lovely. Thank you!”
“You are gorgeous,” Onuegbe said.
“Thank you once more. You look great too” I replied.
I was dressed in a maroon high-heeled sandal by Armani, and she was dressed in a black evening gown by Jovani. She plaited her hair for the first time, and let its strands fall behind her back. Onuegbe was dressed in a black suit and had a black bow tie on too.
“Can I take your hand?” Onuegbe asked Frances. She gently slid her hand towards his, and in all honor, he held her and walked her towards the elevator.
“I wanted somewhere quiet and classy, so I brought you here,” Onuegbe said as he opened the door for me to get out of the car.
“Where are we?”
“This restaurant is called Nouveau.”
“I like the name.”
“You would like the ambience and the food too.”
When they had walked in, Onuegbe quickly rushed over to the table for two, and pulled out a seat and allowed me to sit down first, and then he sat too.
“Thank you! You’re really kind.” I said to him.
Onuegbe smiled, and then he motioned for the waiter to bring the menu. A copy was handed over to me, and another to him. Onuegbe suddenly dropped his menu and kept staring at me.
“What? Why did you drop that?”
“I’ll eat whatever you’d eat.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Ok then, we’ll make it even, I’ll drink whatever you’d drink,” I said.
“Fair deal,” Onuegbe replied.
“While we wait for the food, can I read you a poem I wrote for someone special today?”
“Sure, that would be nice.”
“It’s titled – City Of Lights.”
Come with me to the city of lights
Its inhabitants would love to meet you, If they see me coming with you.
Let’s dance by the river of life
The fishes would love to greet you If they see me dancing with you.
Let’s live forever in Eden
The roses would stay crimson
If they see me living with you.
Let’s pass by the Milky Way
The stars would burn with endless light
If they see me passing by, with you.
And love would last forever
If it finds me, forever with you.
“You’ve got a beautiful heart. I’m sure that person must be really special. The food is here, let’s eat” I said, picking up the cutlery.
We both ate in silence, enjoying the occasional eye contacts made. After the dinner, he motioned for a guy named G-sax to come over to the table. G-sax walked over with his saxophone, and began to play ‘The moment’ by Kenny G, after which he began to play ‘Going Home’. By the time he started to play “Forever in Love”, I was already in tears.
No one had ever shown me such love and honor in a single night. When we were ready to go back to the hotel; Onuegbe motioned for the waiter, who came around and handed him a little basket of rose petals. He began to drop them on the floor as I walked towards the exit. The tears began to flow again. “You are about to make me a nervous wreck tonight,” I said, trying so hard to maintain my composure.
When we got to the door of my hotel room, Onuegbe stopped and thanked me for the privilege to have been my date. “I’m forever grateful,” He said, standing there, just staring at me and smiling while I walked into the room, and shut the door. I really wanted to say something, anything, but I was too scared I would have burst out in tears if I had tried to talk. It was a perfect first date.
I was off to the Airport as early as 6:00 am. I wished I had asked Onuegbe to come along with me. Was it too late to ask him to do so? I picked up my phone and typed: “I’m off to the Airport”. Wanted to knock on your door to say goodbye, but I guessed you must have been tired. Thank you for everything.” I clicked on the dial button, sending the message and hoping to get a quick reply.
Every beep and sound my phone made, I kept praying it was his reply. But it never came. Should I call him? I asked myself, but not wanting to look desperate, I waved that thought off. It was time to start checking in, and I joined the line, plugged my ears with my earphones and began to listen to Kirk Whalum’s ‘The Gospel According to Jazz’ album.
“Hello!” A voice whispered in my ear.
“What?” I responded, removing the earpiece in my ears and turning to see who was talking to me. It was Onuegbe. I screamed and jumped on him.
“I’m sorry I jumped on you, I’m just so happy to see you.”
“I’m happier… I told the cabby to drive like his life depended on it. I don’t have all the time in the world, and you are almost checking in. You remember the poem I quoted to you when we first met?”
“The poem that was written by Khalil Gibran?”
“No, the one I wrote myself.”
“Yes, I do.”
Onuegbe suddenly reached out and held Frances’ hands. “You know, the last paragraph says… Looked out the window a time or two, hoping the horns were the sound of her car. But love used to live on Hope Street, not anymore. I added an extra paragraph to it – Just when I was about to give up, I found loves’ new address, and this time, I won’t let her move away. I love you, Frances.”
“You are really special,” I said to Onuegbe and then gave him a hug. “I’d call you once I touch down.”
As I pulled my bag, I recalled the words of my mother; “When you find HIM, you would know, I would know, your Father would know, and the very air you breathe would know. It was HIM, and I knew it.”
As soon as I was on board the plane, I pulled out my iPhone from the back pocket of my denim jean trouser, and she typed a message – Dad, I found HIM, pleaseeeeeee don’t make things hard for him. I love you.”
“Come home and let’s talk about him. I love you, too, sweetheart! 🙂 “My dad replied.
Ephesians 5:25. (Every lady deserves to be adored and honored.)
Story was written by Richard Oti.
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On Love – taken from ‘The Prophet’ Written by Khalil Gibran, and used under fair usage policy.
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