Longish Road to Love…

I called my cousin this afternoon, with great joy she told me she passed JAMB along with her elder brother. When I came to Benin to write PUME, she was a newborn while her brother was a tiny toddler who rolled his tongue when he cried. I couldn’t be prouder of both of them, two smart teenagers with calm heads on their shoulders.

“Aunty Adaeze! I missed you.” the youngest of the four siblings screamed as her sister handed her the phone and my heart danced to Davido’s Skelewu. As she reported everyone who beat her – her immediate older sister and her class teacher, to me. I thought about how far we’ve come, she and I.

I have always been able to get along with children, it is perhaps a family trait as my parents and brothers are even more attuned to them than I am. It is not unusual to have children cry when they have to go home or when we leave. However, this my little cousin and I didn’t have quite a smooth sail.

She was born after I left school and unlike her other siblings who I saw frequently when they were babies, I didn’t get to see her more than twice a year. She knew who I was, but she always hung back when I came as if she didn’t quite understand why her siblings were so chummy with this Aunty Adaeze person.

It worried me that my baby cousin was distant, aside from the fact that I am good with children (yes, I’m repeating it), the girl in question looks so much like my late paternal grandmother that it’s a little scary. So, it hurt me that this girl who is the image of Mama didn’t like me. You see, Mama and I were tight, very tight.

One day I came into Benin suddenly and I stopped over at my uncle’s place before heading into town where I’d be staying. I didn’t get the usual biscuits and drinks I bought when I was visiting, as my visit was impromptu (I learned I was travelling to Benin-city at 11 pm the previous night). As usual, my baby cousin was distant.

Before heading back to town, I told them to lead me to a nearby shop where I could buy things. I and the troop got there and they each selected what they wanted, everything was two hundred and something naira. I was stunned because the things I got always set me back by thousands and the children didn’t even ask for those things.

I got them several sets of what they wanted and as we turned to go back to the house, baby cousin lifted her arms for me to carry her. It was the first time she came to me by herself, I carried her home and she gave me a big hug before I left.

The next time I came, the first person to jump on me was baby cousin and we sat together for a while until she had to run and play with her sister and her toys. Since then we’ve become besties and she happily reports everyone who looks for her trouble to me and is the only one of her siblings who tells me about missing me. The others are too grown and too cool to be missing their cousin.

The incident taught me a lesson about love and why knowing how to love a person is more important than the volume of love you give the person. I couldn’t have thought that its twenty naira sweets and gum that were the key to my baby’s heart and not the fancy stuff I was buying.

You see, when I was a child I loved those things. I didn’t start eating any biscuits not made by McVities until I was nearly eight years old. Incidentally, it was her father who came visiting and bought ‘peanut cookies’ for us. I had to eat the stuff. After all, I didn’t want him to be sad because I didn’t eat the biscuits he bought. I was eight and he was (and still is) one of my favourite people.

I still do not like most biscuits though, still wouldn’t eat them. But I was projecting my desires on the children and that was nearsighted of me.

That evening in town, I thought of the people I have known; the dalliances and friendships I have had. How it was so easy with someone and with another, it felt like torture. Since then, it’s made me spend less energy in certain situations because I have learned it’s not about me or the other party(s) but something bigger than us.

It’s also made me more observant about the things that make the people I love tick, and I do not spend energy on doing something that feels good to me but does little to the other person. This is a work in progress though, a never-ending one I guess.

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