It is said that one never forgets his/her first love. And although most first time lovers never make together, memories of how things were between them both fond and painful never seem to completely disappear from the conscious mind. Even if they both move on to settle down with other people, some people never quite get over their first loves. A part of them still lives in the past, fantasizing about the could-have-been moments they would have shared together. And sometimes after a while later, the past comes back haunting. This is what happened to Bertha.
Bertha lived in a remote place where she was deemed one of the prettiest in the town. Although she couldn’t further her education after junior high school, she knew she wanted to be with a man who was highly educated and responsible; unlike the many rascals who roamed about aimlessly. Many boys came proposing but she wouldn’t hear of it.
Out of the blue, a young man came to her father’s house hoping to hire the one-room apartment which had been vacant for some months. He was a university graduate posted to the town to teach at the local school for national service. Her father took a liking to him instantly and offered the room to him at a price lower than he’d usually offer it.
Jones as he was called seemed responsible in the eyes of Bertha’s father. He always dressed decently and was polite in his speech. He told his daughter to befriend him so he’d consider taking her as his wife when his national service was over. Bertha was more than pleased to have her father’s blessing on this.
But no matter how much she tried to get close to him, Jones acted distant. Bertha’s father noticed some ladies who he later found out to be fellow national service persons coming to visit him late especially during the weekends. He decided to impose some rules so he’d not have time to associate with other girls. He informed him of new regulations including: the gate going to be locked by 8:30pm every night and no visitors on the property on weekends. Jones protested but the landlord insisted they were non-negotiable. It was either he complied or he packed out of his house.
As much as Jones hated the restrictions, he couldn’t move out because there wasn’t any other better accommodation available in the town and also that affordable. He swallowed his pride and complied. Bertha continued to pester him with specially prepared meals and offering to wash his clothes and clean the room. Her father had told her the best way to show your love to a man was to show how much you could take care of him.
Gradually, Jones began to warm up to her and he would spend time teaching her English and Math. And before she knew it, Bertha fell in love with him. He was a gentleman and his accent was to die for.
“You’ve done well, my daughter,” her father said proudly. “Now seal the deal and let’s have a gentleman in our family.” She nodded gingerly being excited about her father’s orders.
But the one year of national service ran out quickly than they all expected. Bertha cried when he told her he was leaving. He promised he’d be back for her after he had secured a job in the city. About two months later, Bertha realized she was pregnant. Bertha tried his number several times to inform him of the news but the number was out of service. What was she to do?
“This should have come out before he left. I would have married you off by now. Now that he’s out in the wind, how do we get a hold of him?”
Being pregnant out of wedlock, Bertha became a laughing stock in the town especially by the boys whose proposals she had rejected. Out of humiliation, she moved out of town to stay with an auntie in town. After giving birth, Bertha made efforts to find Jones by tracing him to his neighborhood using the information he had given her during their times together. She was told of a rumor that Jones had traveled out of the country to study. Bertha was heartbroken about the news but decided to move on.
She came across a very caring man who she later got to know bore the name Don. He took her in and cared for her and her son like his own. Bertha realized that he loved her and she appreciated the affection but as much as she tried, she couldn’t love him the same way…not like she loved Jones.
She knew the combined actions of her and her father may have pushed Jones to be close to her but she also believed that Jones loved her along the way. Any time she looked into her son’s eyes, she remembered Jones and the ‘village kind-of-love’ that they shared.
Six years passed and Jones returned to the country and went looking for Bertha in the remote town where they had met. Unfortunately Bertha’s father had passed and neighbors informed him Bertha had moved out town many years ago. He was told of the town she had gone to and he searched for her there. Sadly enough, she had moved out from there too. He was about to give up on the search when someone told him where he could find her. He decided to try for the last time and if it failed, he’d give it up.
He found her this time and they were both shocked to see how each other looked after six years. Jones looked fine and matured; Bertha looked tired and older than her age. Jones saw that she had two children with her. He remembered a friend calling him some years back informing him of some ‘village girl’ looking for him carrying a baby. He was scared of what that meant and told his friend he knew no such girl.
Bertha could tell Jones was battling it out in his mind as he stared at the children.
“This is Junior, your son. This is KB, not yours.”
“Oh I see. Hi Junior.” Junior waved at him shyly and hid behind his mother.
After hearing what she had been through since he left including having to bury her father with very little help, he felt sorry for abandoning her even after hearing about her pregnancy. He thought it was prudent for him to make it up to her.
“Why don’t you come with me?”
“Come with you where? I’m someone else’s wife now so to speak.”
“But do you love him?” He asked her.
“That’s not the point. He took care of me when he had no obligation to and now I must be committed to
him. It’s a small price to pay.”
“No, it’s not. To stay with him out of gratitude for the rest of your life? That’s bondage!”
“Do you love me?” she asked him. “Or are you here for your son?”
“I’m here for both of you.”
“Did you hear about us and chose to ignore us?”
“It is complicated, Bertha. A lot happened when I traveled. Now things are looking bright for me and I want to make things right. Is your husband Junior’s legal guardian?”
“Let’s change that and let’s see I can get both of you to join me abroad.”
“What about my other son?”
“You can leave him with his father.”
“You can’t expect me to do that. I’m his mother too.”
“What do we do then?”
“His father took me in along with your child so if you want to take over, you’d have to be responsible for the whole package.”
“That was generous of him and I will compensate him if that would satisfy him but I can’t take another man’s child from him.”
“But you have no qualms about taking his wife?”
“It all lies with you, Bertha. Do you want to stay with him and continue living and looking like this or would you take a chance with me and live a better life?”
The question kept on playing on her mind as Bertha went home. She still loved Jones, no doubt about that. But running off with him sounded selfish on her part. She couldn’t pay Don evil for the good he did her.
“Where are you coming from?” His drunken voice brought her back to reality. She looked away to avoid the bad breath on her face.
“You went drinking again?” He had picked up the habit after his latest consignment was nowhere to be found on the port. He had invested so much money including taken some loan to order that consignment. Bertha felt sorry for him.
“I’ll get you your food.” She served him and sat down to watch him as he ate.
Don was a good man; heaven sent to her but Jones was her first love. If she let Jones go, she might regret it for the rest of her life. If she left with him, she wouldn’t forgive herself if something horrible happened to Don because of her betrayal.
What was she to do? Listen to her heart and elope with the love of her life and hope to live happily ever after or listen to her conscience and stay with the man who loved her even when she couldn’t love him back and took care of her when no one else was willing to?
Kindly share your thoughts. I appreciate your comments.
© Josephine Amoako 2016