“Sir, what exactly do you want? I have a lot of other work to do.”
Charles bit back a small smile. The waitress standing over him seemed annoyed, her brow furrowed like a freshly ploughed cassava farm. He could feel the irritation radiating off her like she was the bonnet of an overworked car.
“I’m sorry. I usually prefer to take my time when making decisions about little things, even this.” He waved the menu at her. “Just come back in a few…”
The girl made a small breathy sound of exasperation, and stormed off, leaving his sentence to trail off into the fragrant air of the busy restaurant. Charles watched her walk, her shoulders thrown back and her small waist blossoming into a comely behind which moved gracefully as she walked towards another occupied table. Over the low buzz of conversation, her low-heeled shoes clicked on the tiled floor, like the sound of cracking palm nuts. The sharp taps brought a wave of nostalgia.
Charles leaned back in his seat and smiled as the memories swam into his head.
The stone split the hard nut on the second try and the girl paused to prise out the sweet innards.
Charles leaned his walking stick against a tree and watched her. He had noticed her sitting beneath a palm tree by the road as he returned from the local market. The bent tree waved its leafy fronds over her head, and the afternoon shadows danced on her back as he watched her from the other side of the sandy path. He dropped the sack he was carrying, leaned against the mango tree under which he had stopped to rest, and rubbed his aching knee. Watching a beautiful girl break palm nuts was a welcome distraction from the incessant pain in his leg.
She seemed to feel his gaze, and looked up. As her wide eyes met his, Charles held back a gasp. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Her brown skin was the shade of perfectly cured wood, an unending smoothness revealed where the wrappers around her waist and comely bust didn’t cover. Her head was crowned with a full head of healthy hair. As he gaped at her bright eyes and pointed nose, her lush lips parted, showing white rows of teeth arranged like seeds on a perfect corn cob.
“Have you never seen a woman before? Must you stare like an idiot?”
The words jolted him. Her voice was melodious, dripping like warm honey, but her tone was heavy with sarcasm.
“Must you greet a stranger with such rude words?” he retorted. “Since I came to this village, no girl has spoken to me like that.”
She scoffed and returned to cracking open the palm nuts gathered at her feet. “Then, I suggest you return to wherever you came from, stranger.”
Charles surprised himself by laughing. He had not met a girl as spirited as her in the entire village. He admitted to himself that her reaction was reasonable; he had been staring at her like an imbecile.
He picked up his walking stick and moved towards her. “Forgive me. It was a long trek from Mgbije market. The sun may have cooked my brains.”
She looked up, apparently ready to agree with him, and then her eyes fell on his walking stick. She rose to her feet, dismay etched on her pretty face as she brushed off kernel shells from the front of her wrapper.
“It is me you should forgive. I’m sorry. You had every right to rest there for a while.”
Charles swallowed his frustration. This was the reaction he always got when people noticed he was a cripple. He did not want to be pitied.
“Still, you shouldn’t have been staring. It’s rude.” She added.
He began to laugh again. Yes, this girl was a breath of fresh air.
“My name is Kelechi.” He lied. “What’s yours?
“How do you know the things you do?” she asked one day, two months after they met. “Are you a wizard? I won’t be afraid. Tell me.”
He looked at her thoughtfully. Her eyes, bright with curiousity, held his. Adaeze, as beautiful as her name, truly had no fear in her.
Charles sighed. He knew this day would come.
“I don’t want to chase you away.” He said, holding her hands. They were sitting by the stream where she had come to fetch water. Don’t tell her, the water seemed to whisper as it flowed past. Keep your secrets or you will lose her.
She sensed his indecision. “Tell me, Kelechi. I know the villagers murmur and gossip about you because you know many strange things, but I could never be afraid of you. Just let me know the man I have come to love.”
He smiled. She was truly different; unafraid to declare her emotions, unlike the other blushing maidens in the village. Surely she could handle the truth.
So he told her.
She sat still as a rock when he told her he had lived several lifetimes, in several places, as several people. He didn’t know if it was a blessing or curse, but he was always disabled, perhaps to keep him humble. This time he had one bad leg; the last time he had been blind in one eye.
“I always come back. I always remember who I was before my birth.” His sad voice drifted over the murmuring stream. “I’m always lonely, because I fear to make new memories I will have to carry forever. So I never stay in one place or get close to people. My head is full of knowledge and i cannot share it.”
Adaeze remained still for a while and he watched different emotions flit across her face. Shock. Confusion. Sadness. But when he saw no fear or mistrust in her eyes, his heart lifted.
“Do you believe me?” he asked, pressing her small palms between his. “The only other time I told someone all I knew, I was killed for practicing witchcraft.”
“I believe you.” She said finally. “Maybe we all come back, but do not remember. Sometimes, things are familiar and I do not know why. Those memories you have… you must share them. You must preserve them. We may all learn from them.”
Tears filled his eyes, but he held them back.
“My parents in this lifetime named me Kelechi, but my name is Charles. My first and true name is Charles.”
For the first time, she looked truly amazed. “What a ridiculous name! I cannot marry a man called …Charles.” The name fell out of her mouth like a piece of bitter yam. “I prefer Kelechi, thank you very much.”
He laughed till he fell off the stone on which he was sitting. As she helped him up, a voice in his head seemed to ask, you will never forget this girl; do you want to make this memory?
Yes, his heart replied. It’s better to have loved and lost, than not to have loved at all.
And love they both did. They were married and lived a full, rich life. Surrounded by family and friends, they shared everything together until old age took her from him.
On her dying bed, he whispered into her ears. If everyone truly comes back, I will find you, my beloved. Wait for me. Remain fiery and different and my soul will be drawn to yours like a moth to a flame.
I will find you.
And he had.
In this new life, he had met technology, and the internet. He now better understood the cycles of death and rebirth that he was caught in. The concept of reincarnation was no longer such a mystery, and he had found others like him. He was no longer alone and afraid. Yet, he had to find her.
And with the help of the internet, he had done just that.
“Are you ready to order now, sir?” A voice interrupted his reverie. The waitress had returned.
He looked up and fiddled with the device on his ear. “Excuse me. Could you repeat that?”
The waitress’ eyes followed his hand and fell on his hearing aid. The impatient expression on her face disappeared. “Oh. I’m sorry. I was just asking if you were ready to order.”
Charles smiled. Adaeze had always had an oversized conscience. He remembered her reaction had been similar when she first saw his crippled leg in their last lifetime. He stared up at this lovely waitress who used to be his wife. The internet had helped him find her here, running a small restaurant. He could not wait to tell her all the wonderful experiences they had shared.
He could not wait to create new memories with her.
That soft mouth he remembered so well parted, and sarcasm dripped from her lush lips. “Well, sir? I know you can talk, so must you keep staring at me like an idiot?”
This time Charles laughed out loud. His fiery Adaeze had not changed at all.