I was in my final year at the University of Lagos when I met Eric one wet and cold afternoon three years ago. I was on my way to see my friend in Moremi Hall. As I walked along, a car on speed splashed water on my dress. Conscious of what he had just done, the driver immediately parked and apologised when he saw me standing and looking all wet and messed up from the head to the toe. “O my God, doesn’t this driver know that everywhere is wet?” I screamed.
I am so sorry I didn’t see the muddy water in time,” he emphasised. Calmly I said, “That’s alright, please stop apologising. I just have to go back to my hostel and change my clothes.” “Please can I drive you down to your hostel and take you to wherever you are going?” He asked. “Don’t worry I’ll walk back,” I replied. “Please oblige me,” he begged.
He took me to my hostel, waited for me to get changed and dropped me in front of Moremi Hall. “Thank you so much,” I said. “You don’t have to thank me. After all I accidentally splashed water on you,” he stressed. “By the way my name is Eric. What is yours?” He enquired. “My name is Cleopatra but everybody calls me Cleo. Are you a student of this school?” I questioned. “No, I come here to visit my younger brother. I graduated two years ago,” Eric revealed. We exchanged phone numbers and I also gave him my room number and he left. Well, I did not hear from Eric neither did I bother to call him until a month when I received a surprise phone call from him.
He kept apologising for neither calling nor coming to see me in school as he had promised because he travelled that same night out of the country. “I’m sorry I did not call you, Cleo, all this time. I travelled to London that same night we met and I just returned to the country this morning. Please we can have dinner tonight if you will not be too busy? I will pick you up at 7 p.m.,” he said. I told him it was alright by me.
At exactly 7 p.m., he was in front of my hostel and we actually went out to have dinner. We talked about a number of issues and at the end of the day, we agreed to start dating. Eric was the best thing that happened to me. He was my first love and I loved him so much. He visited me every weekend so that we could spend time together and also know each other well. When I saw how serious he was about our relationship and was insisting that he wanted to meet with my family to tell me how much he loved me and to show me how much he wanted to be with me, I decided to open up to him.
“Eric, don’t worry, you will soon meet my family,” I promised. He had come to visit me as usual one Saturday morning and I suggested that we visit an orphanage home for a change. He agreed. Immediately we got there, I held his hands and asked, “Eric, do you truly love me?” “Of course I do. I love you very much,” he said. “I brought you here because you said you wanted to meet my family.
Everyone in this compound is my family,” I said. “Cleo, I don’t understand you,” Eric said. “Well by the time I tell you my story, you will understand why I brought you here and it is up to you to decide if you still wanted us to be together or if you will quietly walk away,” I stressed. “Eric, I don’t know my family. I don’t know where I come from. I have lived in this orphanage for almost 25 years. I was reliably informed that they found me at the gate of the orphanage one night when I was a baby with a written note left by my mother.
Well, the summary of the note was that my mother said she didn’t want to abort me because it was a sin before God; that was why she decided to keep the pregnancy despite all the shame, rejection and humiliation, especially from my father and his family. She revealed that she decided to abandon me because she was incapable of taking good care of me.
She however pleaded that I should be well taken care of and God will bless them. She however warned that I should not be given up for adoption because I was a special child whose destiny was bright and full of promises. I would have been given up for adoption many years ago but the matron decided to fulfil my mother’s wish. So Eric, I and some other children who were identified early as brilliant were given scholarships right from our nursery down to the university level by some group of people who do not want their identity known.
While some others who were gifted with handy work learnt crafts and trade. They are all my brothers and sisters and the only family I have ever known. You said you wanted to meet my family and here you are,” I narrated.
Eric looked straight into my eyes and said, “Cleo, I love you and nothing is going to change that. I don’t care if you grew up in the orphanage or not. What matters to me is that I love you and will love to spend the rest of my life with you. Growing up in an orphanage does not make you less human, I love you.” “Do you think your family will accept me?” I asked. “Cleo, my family will not choose a wife for me. They have no choice but to accept you because you are the woman I truly love,” he assured.
Later, we went to see the matron and I introduced Eric to her as my boyfriend. She advised us and told him he was welcome any day. I took him round the orphanage and I was surprised to see how he played with everyone. In the afternoon, we all had lunch there before leaving.
It was amazing to note that after that day, Eric made sure he visited the orphanage at least once a month with or without me taking along foodstuffs, beverages, toiletries and money. He made sure that the whole day was devoted to the children.
Eric took our relationship to the next level the day he proposed to me after my National Youth Service programme. “Eric, I love you and want to be yours forever but have you told your family about my background?” I asked. “I have told you that does not matter to me. My family has to accept you because you are my choice,” he assured. I accepted his proposal because I loved him so much. He invited me to have dinner with his family so that he would officially introduce me to them. I accepted. Agreeing to this turned out the biggest mistake of my life.
After the dinner, his mother said, “Cleo, my dear, who are your parents? What do they do for a living? In fact, tell us about yourself and your family.” I cleared my throat and in fright, I said,
“Ma, I don’t know where I come from neither do I know my parents.” “Are they dead?” Eric’s father asked. “The truth is that I grew up in an orphanage,” I revealed. “What? Eric didn’t know about this?” retorted the mother. “Mum, I knew and it does not matter to me. The only thing that matters to me is that I love her. The fact that she grew up in an orphanage does not make her less human. Aside from the fact that she is a graduate of Economics with a good job, she is a true embodiment of a woman. Mum, dad Cleo is my choice,” he maintained.
Eric’s mother stood up and affirmed, “Eric you will not bring disgrace to this family. You want to marry a woman who does not know anything about herself or family? A woman who grew up in an orphanage? Don’t you have dignity? I am sorry to announce to you that you cannot marry her. Even if we accept her, who will collect her bride price from us? How do we tell people that our son is getting married to a woman who grew up at an orphanage, a woman who cannot trace her root or knows her custom and tradition?”
“Son, you are a disgrace. When you bring a real woman home, then we will receive and welcome her. But for Cleo or whatever you call her name, she is not welcomed in this house,” the father restated.
Eric told his parents that his mind was made up and nothing would change it. He took me back to the orphanage and we reminisced on all that was said at his house. “Cleo, I love you. I will convince my parents to accept you. Please do not lose hope on us because I am nothing without you. I love you,” he repeated.
When I told the matron all that transpired at Eric’s house, she told me to remain calm and pray that the will of God alone will be done in my life. About a week later, I was shocked when the matron called and informed me that Eric’s mother paid her a visit. She advised her to warn me to stay away from Eric because we do not belong to the same class and he would never marry me. I knew Eric loved me dearly but I guessed I had to let him go. So, I decided to be hostile to him whenever he came to see me just to make him leave me alone. It has been futile. No matter what I do or react to him, he keeps coming back and hoping that we will get married some day.
I was humiliated and rejected by the family of the man I love just because I grew up in an orphanage. Is it written on my forehead that I grew up there? What has love got to do with where I grew up, anyway? Would growing up there not make me a good wife and mother? I love Eric dearly and will not want to lose him because he gave my life a new meaning. But really, should I be rejected because I grew up in an orphanage?