As told to Mariam
In February, I made a call for Nigerian women to share stories about their best ex. Annabelle was one of the women who sent in a story. When I shared the article on Twitter, a lot of people were curious about Annabelle’s story and she was willing to share. Here’s what she told me:
When I was 18, I got diagnosed with bone cancer. It was tough to deal with because I was in my first year of university. I struggled with pain and nausea at random points in the day. My friends were great. They would help me write my name on the attendance when I had to miss classes. A lot of money went into making sure I survived. Although my mum kept telling me that all I had to do was eat well and rest, I believed my doctors had told her how long I had to live. In the meantime, I wanted my own money. I started looking for jobs that paid students.
I was on the lookout for ushering jobs or gigs as a movie extra when I saw the opening for the role of a talk show host. I rehearsed my lines and anticipated the audition. On the day, however, nothing went the way I planned. I forgot my lines and stammered through the audition. I kept looking at the camera when I wasn’t supposed to. When the crew tried to correct me, I started crying. It was very embarrassing. At the end of it, a man walked up to me as I was arranging to leave. He asked if I knew who he was. I said, “No,” but I was curious about why he’d think I knew him. He didn’t explain himself, instead, he told me his name was Tobi Afolabi* and asked me to Google him. I was running late, so we exchanged numbers, but I kept thinking, “What the fuck is this one feeling like?” At home, I found out that he was a popular media personality in the north, and he was also the producer of the show I was auditioning for.
That night, he called, and we talked. I didn’t like him at first. I thought he was too old — he was 27, I was 19. I imagined that he would be boring, so I aired his texts a lot. Also, I was sick — I didn’t see the need to pursue any romantic relationship knowing it could end in pain for both parties. I had no hair and lost weight every day, so when he texted me things like, “You’re the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen,” I was sure he was lying.
When he was done with the show, he came back to town and asked to meet up. One afternoon in June, I went over to his place. He made us lunch and officially asked me to be his girlfriend. I told him I was dying and it would be unfair to date him. At some point, I started crying. He didn’t say much while I spoke. He listened and didn’t interrupt. He looked bored. I started feeling weird — how could he not be moved by my plight?
I went home late that day. My mum started yelling the minute she saw me. She was always shouting at me. I expected she would be nicer to me since I was sick but it was like she became worse. She would tell me, “It’s like you like being sick. You must enjoy the attention that it brings because you’re not even trying to fight it.”
That night Tobi called to ask if I had gotten home safely, and I started crying. I told him about my mother being mean to me and how my sister picks on me. He said nothing about it after I finished talking. He just asked if we could see the next day.
I went to his place the next day and after chilling for a while, I asked why he didn’t say anything about everything I had told him the previous day. He asked what I wanted him to say. I started crying again. He asked why I was crying, and when I told him he had hurt my feelings, he responded with, “Has crying fixed your feelings now?” He then told me that I loved to play the victim and that I think I have monopoly on grief. He said, “So what if you’re dying? At least you know it’s coming. Everyone is going to die eventually. You should take advantage of it and make each day count, instead of crying and whining all the time.”
I was too shocked to say anything to him. I carried myself home to cry. I don’t know how, but the next day, I went to see him again. I told him he hurt my feelings. He apologised, but he insisted that he wouldn’t take his words back. He said I had a rare opportunity to try everything I wanted to do before my time was up. He made me write a list of all the things I would like to do. My diet was quite strict so on my list, I wrote things like “I want to eat 20 bars of chocolate” and “I want to get drunk until I pass out”.
I was scared to travel because I didn’t want to have a seizure or blackout on the way, but Tobi made me travel with him a lot. Whenever he had a movie or wedding to shoot, he took me with him. He got used to my episodes — he could tell when one was coming even before I knew. He would talk to his doctor friend to get me new medication. If I complained of one discomfort, he would throw the drugs out and look for another one. My mum wasn’t like that — she gave me whatever the doctor gave me and didn’t care if they made me puke my brains out or lose my appetite. Tobi wanted to know everything. “Does this make your migraines better? Does your throat itch? Your tongue is a weird colour, let me have a closer look at it.” Soon he found a combination that I was fine with, then I had more energy to do things with him. We went hiking, we had picnics, we went to the cinema to see movies. Whenever someone was rude to me, he would insist I have my say. He told me it wasn’t healthy to hide my dissatisfaction. At first, it was hard for me to do that, but soon enough, when people stared at my hair for too long, I would ask if there was a problem. He made me feel like a different person — a normal, beautiful and happy person.
He introduced me to his family and they were nice to me. It was different because, in my family, we didn’t send each other like that.
He bought me things to help my moods like scented candles, chocolates and ointments. At this point, I was always wearing wigs because I was self-conscious about how I looked, so he bought me a lot of wigs, along with scarfs and hats.
He laced my drinks with painkillers. He introduced me to weed and it helped me feel better. I was in love with him, so I would have tried anything. One time in school, we were asked to read The Lion and The Jewel, but I was too weak to complete the task. It was one of my bad days. I kept throwing up and my body hurt when I moved. I was worried I was going to fail the course.
He came to my house that night with a new hard drive. I was like, “What the fuck kind of gift is this?” But when I plugged it into my system, I found that he made me an animation of The Lion and The Jewel. It’s still the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received in my entire life. Of course, I passed the course.
The sex was the best thing ever. Before him, I was too shy to have sex completely naked. I would keep my shirt on and cover myself with a blanket, but he wasn’t having any of that. He kept emphasizing how beautiful I was. He said my dark skin was flawless, and he loved it.
Being with him made me feel powerful. I found myself trying to be like him — doing things the way he did them or talking like him. I noticed I stopped crying as often. I started going out without my wigs. One night, I returned home late and my mum started yelling at me. I told her, “Look, I have a lot of shit going on so maybe try asking what’s wrong with me and we can talk about it like adults.” As I was talking, my heart was beating. I was expecting one dirty slap, but she apologized. Our relationship improved after that. My sister stopped picking on me when she realised it wasn’t getting to me anymore — she would make a mean comment about my hair and I would laugh or agree with her. Eventually, I brought Tobi home to meet my family and everyone loved him. At this point, we had been dating for 3 years. When I graduated from university and got a job offer that required me to move. The first thing my mum said was, “How will Tobi feel about this?”
Being his girlfriend became my identity. People would send us invites to their events tagged Annabelle and Tobi. He gave me the key to his apartment. I could come over at any time and do whatever I wanted. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, so when I saw a ring in his wardrobe one day, I was overjoyed. I was so excited I called my friends and started screaming. I asked them if they knew about it, they said no. I decided to wait for him to ask me to marry him. I waited and waited but the question never came.
We would be having a nice moment and I would be expecting him to whip out the ring but it never happened. I got frustrated, but I couldn’t tell him what was wrong with me. After a while, I couldn’t find the ring in the wardrobe. I assumed he might have kept it for his friend or one of his clients. I went through his social media accounts, trying to see if any of his friends recently proposed, but I found nothing.
One day, we were arguing, about something so small I can’t remember, and he said, “It doesn’t matter — I’m marrying someone next month anyway.” I was shocked. We weren’t casually dating — we were planted deeply in each other’s lives. I would hear a joke or watch a movie and my first thought would be, “I can’t wait to tell Tobi about this.” So when he told me he was marrying someone else, I didn’t ask who, I asked how. “How did you have time to have a relationship with someone else when I’m with you all the time? Did she not see my fucking pictures everywhere? Did she not care that you’re in love with someone else?” I didn’t cry. . I just said, “Cool.” I didn’t want to play the victim, so I was supportive. He possibly expected a tantrum and when I didn’t give it to him, he didn’t know how to handle it.
I went to his house while he was at work to pack my things. When I was done, I gave the key to his security guard. When he got home and saw that my stuff was gone, he called me. I was casual like nothing happened, “Hey babe, how was your day?” I was having a mental breakdown but at least I was poised and sweet the entire time. When I saw that his wife was light-skinned, I cried. It felt like everything he said to me was a lie. I never asked him why he chose someone else or if I did anything wrong. He is married with four kids now. We still talk. He calls me now and then, but I don’t think I ever forgave him.
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