Story by: Ejine Okoroafor (Part 5 of 6)
Maryam was uncharacteristically quiet when I told her before breaking into a sob, charging, ‘You will leave me, you will forget me.’
I couldn’t believe her. I loved her. I would never leave or hurt her. I assured her that if I managed to travel with the Chief that I would immediately send for her once I became settled. She was my soul mate. We were meant to be together and will be together. She was soon reassured and cheered up again.
My visa and travel plans came through soon enough. Maryam and I had a plan in place. I will send for her as soon as I settle. I had wanted to place wine on her head or engage her before my departure but her parents had declined. They wanted me to come back when I was ready and wed her properly.
It broke my heart to leave Maryam behind as we departed. Chief Okoronkwo and the rest of his entourage were departing my hometown for Lagos. We were travelling to the Murtala Mohammed International Airport to catch our New York bound flight. Maryam wept helplessly, clinging to me and begging me not to leave her. I consoled, reassured and reiterated my promises to her. I’ll send for her soon.
We arrived safely at New York City. I was awestruck and could hardly believe my luck. We stayed with Chief Okoronkwo for a few days before my distant cousin; Ugo came to pick me up as planned. It was my clean break to live and make my American dream. I was beyond ready and excited.
Cousin Ugo wasted no time in clarifying matters to me as he drove us back in his car to his home in East Orange, New Jersey. He had intoned gravely that one is entirely handicapped until legalizing their immigration papers. He acknowledged the fact that I was lucky to have a mentor in him and so will be saved potential pitfalls. He conceded that there were perks to living abroad because life was generally better organized. You can afford to make plans, budget and follow them through. Hard work and perseverance were essential. He could tell that I was a serious young man and bade that I don’t let my family down. He promised helping and guiding me.
I listened to Cousin Ugo while bursting with inner exuberance. This is America o! I was eager to contend with similar trials and tribulations. Those that had helped him construct a mansion back home, financially elevated his family, such that his father is now a traditional title holder, afforded his parents a car and driver, ferrying them around while his siblings’ are more buoyant. I wanted it all but most of all, I wanted to bring my Maryam over.
Cousin Ugo also shared that his interest lay more in building his fortunes back home than making substantive investments here in America. His ultimate plan was to relocate back home at some point. It was therefore no surprise when we arrived back at his very mundane accommodation. His real home was back in Nigeria.
Cousin Ugo was a cab driver. He owned his car which was a big deal because he only paid a token to his cab office. He would’ve asked his boss to employ me at their office, answering the phones or cleaning but not since the immigration officers raided their office. This had led to arrests and deportation of illegal immigrants and his boss was at the risk of losing his business. So he insists on employing only those with legal immigration papers.
I spent three agonizing weeks at home before Cousin Ugo finally returned one evening with good news. A friend of his, who owned a restaurant in New York, had agreed to employ me in his kitchen. He charged that if I worked hard and saved enough money that I could arrange a wedding in a bid to legalize my immigration papers before my initial valid 6 months visa expires.
The next day, I had started work, initially commuting by train from New Jersey to New York. I soon made friends with Kodjo, a Ghanaian immigrant, working in the same kitchen and in my similar situation. He had a ladylove back in Ghana, who he planned to bring over. He was however one step ahead of me, having already accomplished his arranged marriage and filled his I-131 application a month ago. He consented to sharing his apartment with me. I relocated to live with him in Brooklyn.
I worked hard, taking on available extra shifts to save more money. I bought phone cards to call home every weekend. I spoke to Maryam regularly, updating her but with only the salient and wonderful aspects of my life. I missed her and asked her to stay patient. I sent money home to her and my family too.
Kodjo’s bogus bride introduced me to her friend Towanda when I was ready with adequate funds. I was a bit skeptical when I met Towanda. She lacked the gentility of Shoshanna, Kodjo’s bride. Towanda was stocky, wore a big afro hair, dangling earrings, ill-fitting tight clothes and high heels. She always chewed gum. She was also brash, talking nonstop in foul language laced Ebonics. She wanted all her money upfront before we went to the courts to wed. Cousin Ugo expressed similar doubts as I had when he attended our wedding, commenting dryly, “this one looks like trouble o!”
Towanda readily provided the documents required for the filling of our I-130 application. I was relieved and happy. I called Maryam to tell her the news. She had better news for me. She was 5 months pregnant with our baby. I was doubly excited and determined to work harder, for Maryam and our unborn baby.