Copyright © 2016 by uncutz
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We promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears.
François VI de la Rochefoucault
I was sweating again. I closed my eyes and tried to calm my thudding heart. I saw her there, in my mind. The Brazilian hair she always had on reached down to her graceful shoulder. I remembered every detail, how her beautiful eyes crinkled when she smiled, the way the left side of her lips curled more than her right when she laughed. The looks on her face when we made love; her soft and sensitive neck and all of that. I could still see the few freckles that lay dotted across the bridge of her nose. All of that was still mine, but I knew it wouldn’t last. Holding on to her image for two weeks had been a miracle. I just had one last promise to keep.
I was jostled by the nervous girl sitting next to me. She was littered with tattoo proclaiming her to be a courageous rebel; her jitters spoke of the same fear I felt. They had packed us in like sardines on little plastic chairs that looked like they belonged in some elementary school classroom. Most of us would leave disappointed and I prayed I was one them. I had only promised to show up I hadn’t promised to succeed. No. I didn’t. Most of the contestants were younger than I. I closed my eyes again, to shut out their youthful anxiety.
I took a few deep breaths, and brought the image of Dolapo back into my mind. It was still so easy to see her. I knew my memory, such a weak tool, would begin to fail. I had pictures, but they weren’t the flowing 3-D I could call up in my psyche. Still so beautiful and perfect was the picture framed in my feeble mind. I heard the door open and hoped it wasn’t for me. “Omawumi Megbele?” I opened my eyes as the smartly-dressed woman wearing a headset called out the name. A young lady of about 19 three rows away jumped up excitedly. I was just as excited for her.
I had been here for over half a day and knew the auditions had to be coming to a close. It was a long shot to be chosen and I had never been lucky at things like this. I had my bad luck going in my favour because I c couldn’t make it to the hot seat with Frank Edoho having tried several times to take a shot at WWTBAM. I closed my eyes again and spent more time with the memory of Dolapo, my wife.
“Timi Dakolo?” The lady had returned, and blessedly called out a name which was not mine. I didn’t open my eyes this time as Timi gave a quick cheer, and I heard him head quickly to the door. I wished it would end. I was hoping he was the last, but no one dismissed us. I tried to breathe slowly. My pulse was still racing and I needed it to slow down. One way or another, this little bit of personal hell would be over soon.
It was getting too late for it to continue much longer. “Last one,” the woman called, when she returned fifteen minutes later. I could feel the emotions shift as one in the room. The silence was deafening. I closed my eyes again and saw Dolapo’s smile. Her face shifted slowly to a look I knew all too well. The mischievous one, the expression that lovingly told me I had no choice in the matter.
My heart plummeted to my stomach and I knew the next words before they were spoken. “David Akeju?” The groans were loud as hopes were dashed, mine included. My hands were shaking as I opened my eyes, armed only with a promise. I stood slowly, trying to stall as fear mixed with my sorrow. “You’re lucky, oooo!” the tattoo girl said as I stood. I looked at her, sweat forming on my brow. I was about to say something; maybe offer her my place. The promise kept me from that escape. I just shook my head and headed toward the door, I wished was miles away.
The woman with the headset led me down the hall. She was babbling quickly, in an indifferent manner, about what I was to expect. I stopped listening after she told me I was to stand on a small red ‘O’ on the stage. I was met, just off the stage, by a young man who fitted me with a wireless mic. He warned me not to touch my chest while I was out there. A lady in a white T-shirt came up and wiped my brow and quickly put some kind of powder on my face. He warned me the lights would be bright, and I should just look at the judges. I closed my eyes again and saw Dolapo smiling. It didn’t slow my heart, but I didn’t feel so alone or so I thought.
All promise outruns performance.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I heard my name reverberate in the auditorium. It quieted the low drone of the audience I hadn’t realized was so close. I stood there, my legs unwilling to move. Someone pushed me and I half stumbled toward that little red ‘O’ at the centre of the stage. The lights were so blinding; I could only make out the first twenty rows behind the three judges’ seats. A weak, cordial applause welcomed me to hell. Yeah…it was hellish.
I stopped on the ‘O’ and turned toward the judges. I could feel the blood driving painfully through my veins. “Welcome, David,” a man I recognized, the third judge on the right said. He had a wild frock of black, dreadlock hair running down his shoulders and back. He wore sunglasses and an overly confident expression. I knew I should know his name, but I never watched these talent shows because of my love for football leagues around the world especially, the EPL.
I found myself jealous of his sunglasses. I nodded to his greeting, not yet trusting my voice. “Do you think you have what it takes to win?” the judge asked. He looked a little perturbed that I hadn’t really acknowledged him yet. At least he asked an easy question. “No,” I answered truthfully. I didn’t give further details on my answer which seemed to bother him all the more. “Then what are you doing here?” he asked exasperatedly. I had a feeling procedures would change at the next auditions. Another easy question; the answer was more difficult to get out. “I promised my wife,” I responded.
I remembered when I made the promise and the pain hit hard again. I had to take a long blink. “So, your wife thinks you can win?” the man asked with a bit of whimsy. The thought that he would even pretend to know Dolapo’s wishes infuriated me. I know there was anger in my voice when I answered. It felt better than the fear I had. “I don’t pretend to know why,” I answered thickly, “I promised her and I am going to keep that promise.” The audience gasped a little and the judges looked surprised at my venom. There was a pause while Mr. Sunglasses considered my response.
“What do you plan to sing for us, Promise Keeper?” the judge asked sarcastically. This elicited a small chuckle from the audience.
I really didn’t like this guy making fun of my promise to my wife. “Dolapo,” I answered. The judges looked at each other strangely. “The R’n’B song?” Mr. Sunglasses asked incredulously. I kicked myself for not looking up the name before. Of course there was already a song called ‘Dolapo’. I really didn’t want to answer any more questions.
“No. I wrote it myself,” I replied. There was surprise and a bit of laughter at that response. I was already gritting my teeth wishing this would just end. “Well this should at least be entertaining,” Mr. Sunglasses said with a superior smile, “go ahead and keep your promise.” He made it sound so amusing. The audience was laughing openly at this point. I rallied around my rising anger, trying to hold the fear at bay. I had to close my eyes to make the faces disappear. I had never sung in public; I had only for my wife. I saw Dolapo there, smiling and proud. I could always sing to her. I wrote the words to fit the folklore generic hip-pop.
The tune was almost as pretty as Dolapo, and fit our love as well as possible. I heard the music start in my mind and I slowly sang to her about how we met and how our hearts merged. I sang of her beauty, comparing it poorly to a sunrise. I sang of her smile, of our dreams and mostly of our love. Dolapo’s face changed, and I saw her concern as I got to the end. I sang about my loss and of her death. I couldn’t help the tears or the crack in my voice. My promise kept, I dropped my head and listened to the silence. I raised my head and stared into the blinding lights. I think they were waiting for more. The applause started slowly and my anger flared quickly.
The death of my wife was not a celebration. I raised my hand in front of my face, trying to shut out the hullabaloo and the lights. The hysterical ignorant audience went on with their revere, but my promise was kept. I headed off the stage at fast clip; my pain as sharp as when I last held Dolapo. The song had fully renewed the misery, my misery. I heard the judges shouting at me. ‘Just don’t call me back,’ I thought.
For every promise, there is price to pay.
The producer lady, the one with the headphones, wisely moved out of my way as I exited. The man behind her wasn’t so smart. “You are yet to finish the auditioning process,” he informed me as he attempted to block my way. I was glad of it, more anger to replace the pain. I flung the microphone at him and I grabbed him by the collar. “Sue me!” I shouted and threw him into a pole behind me. He slipped and fell to the ground and quickly turned away. It took a couple of turns down the hall’s backstage before I found an exit. The crisp open air hit me in a wave. I breathed it in deeply as I headed down the street, darkness already cloaking the city; the coolness wrapped my pain well. I heard a door open behind me. I ran to the street and disappeared into the city.
I was at the bridge when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number so I hit ignore. I walked along the walkway, looking at the silently-flowing river. Cars passed as their occupants oblivious to the death of my wife. The whole world was oblivious. My phone rang again, another number I didn’t recognize. I ignored it as well and stopped at the head of the bridge. I closed my eyes as I leaned on the rail. I could see Dolapo again, so cheerful. I would begin to forget soon. I didn’t want to lose Dolapo again. I knew it was grief, but that was all I had of her. I never wanted the grief to end.
My phone rang again and I didn’t even look. I pulled it out of my pocket and dropped it into the river. It was joyous to let it go. I laughed at the thought of it, throwing away the world and all its useless machinations. My Rolex wristwatch followed and I wrapped myself in a cloak of my memories. I pulled my wallet out and looked at it closely. It was my connection to the world. My driver license, National ID, Voters Card, Master debit cards and the Staff ID card I should have turned in when I had quit. None of it had meaning. I had kept my promise and everything else was unlikely. I threw the wallet farther. My keys were heavier; they went the farthest into the water below bridge.
I walked courageously to the east end of the bridge, where the river lapped up next to the rocks far below. I was no longer cold, or cared if I was. I climbed over the railing and aligned myself with the rocks the water was kissing below. I closed my eyes and there was Dolapo again, in all her perfection. Every freckle, every dimple, her arms outstretched and inviting. I didn’t jump; I just leaned into her arms. I saw the most precious expression, the same one I would see as we made love. I folded into her as I fell away from the world. I had kept my promise.
…to be continued