They drove home in silence for about twenty minutes, and when they finally reached Kayode’s apartment, he opened the front door for her and let her in. He lived on the second floor of an apartment very close to the eastern part of Berlin’s center. The apartment itself was furnished like a typical bachelor’s pad, and Remi could tell with just one glance at the kitchen, that Kayode hardly ever cooked. She was not surprised.
She helped him with some of the lighter bags, and after showing her the room that would become her bedroom, he retired to his room for the night. By now, it was almost 8:00 pm.
Remi was both hungry and exhausted from her long trip. She decided to just lie down on her bed for a few minutes. By the time she opened her eyes again, it was 2:00 am! And the hunger pangs had more than doubled in intensity. Kayode had not shown her around the kitchen, so she had to get acquainted with the kitchen supplies and food stuff on her own.
With all the stumbling around and crashing into objects she did before finding the light switch, she was surprised the neighbors were not beating down the door. The electric stove was quite easy to use and Remi was cooking her first meal in Berlin, in no time at all.
She made herself some pancakes and scrambled eggs within a few minutes, and sat down at the breakfast table to enjoy her meal. That was when she saw it: a desktop computer sitting in a corner of the sitting room. She had expected to see a laptop, but certainly not a desktop computer. As she ate her meal, a thought occurred to her.
“I hope he hasn’t locked the computer with a password,” she thought, as she washed up the dishes and went off to use the computer. Unfortunately, it was coded with a password. However, as Remi tried to unlock the computer, the password hint that kept re-appearing was the phrase “What is my love in Yoruba?”
“That’s easy. Ife Mi.”
She was right. That was the password and she logged into the computer. She went straight to look in the “My Pictures” folder, but was sorely disappointed to find just the generic wallpapers that came with the computer. She kept searching different folders, but came up empty each time.
You see, Remi was convinced that there could be only one reason why the Kayode she thought she knew in Nigeria was so different from the man she met in Berlin: another woman. She was hoping to find proof of this other relationship on his computer. No such luck!
After seeing the same Koala bear hanging from a tree for the 15th time, that morning, Remi decided that it was time to temporarily abandon her mission and switch to more fun activities. She opened a browser window and went to Bella Naija’s website. Something about visiting a website that connected her back to Nigeria was so endearing that for those 35 minutes, she almost forgot that she was on another continent. She saw pictures of events she had attended in person just weeks before. And then something strange happened: she started nodding off to sleep! So, Remi went back to bed, after shutting down the computer.
A few hours later, Kayode tapped her gently and woke her up. It was around 6:30 a.m. and he was leaving for work. He left her some money, a spare key for the front door, a phone card, and a cell phone for her use. The phone card, of course, was to make international calls, because, as he said, he knew she would want to call back home to let them know she had arrived safely.
Just before he left her room, he turned around and said:
“I’m sorry about yesterday. Let’s just learn to live together in peace, okay?” And without waiting for a reaction from her, he was gone.
Whether Kayode’s apology was sincere or not, Remi could not tell. At least, not from the look on his face. Since her eyelids were still heavy with sleep, she succumbed to the pressure and went back to sleep. She did not wake up again until 11:00 a.m.
Remi was naturally adventurous, but something about being in another country where English was not the official language scared her. She had read somewhere that some Germans spoke English, but she knew that it was only a matter of time before she would be forced to learn the language. So, she made plans to broach the topic with Kayode when he got back from work. Meanwhile, she called her family back in Nigeria to tell them she had arrived safely in Berlin. However, she carefully left out, especially from her mother, the details about how Kayode had discredited the traditional wedding, and the argument the day before. Here’s why.
The day before the traditional wedding ceremony, Mrs. Bajulaiye, Remi’s mother, had called her aside and issued a serious warning: no matter what happened in Berlin, Remi had to work out any disagreement or unforeseen circumstances with Kayode.
“Ile oko n’ile e o, Remi,” her mother kept repeating to the point of irritation. At the time, it had made no sense to Remi, why her mother would keep telling her that her husband’s home was her home. Of course she knew that. Why was it being drummed into her head as if she was a two-year old?
It took her coming to Berlin to realize the gravity of her mother’s warning. She had to make this marriage to Kayode work. She was no longer welcome in her parents’ home for anything other than a short visit. As far as they were concerned, Kayode’s home in Berlin was now their daughter’s home too.
But with Kayode being so cold and unhelpful, she was at a loss for what to do.
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, right? Today, we shall see.” And she tried it that very day. Instead of going out to explore her new neighborhood, she stayed and cooked. Kayode just happened to have the basic ingredients lying around in his freezer, and with some of the spices she had brought from Nigeria, a simple meal of fried rice and fried chicken was ready in no time. Unfortunately, there was no plantain lying around, so there was no dodo.
By the time Kayode came back from work, there was a piping hot meal waiting for him, and Remi was ready to serve him. But she was shocked at his reaction.
“What’s that smell? Have you been frying something?”
“Yes, I have. I made a special meal for my darling.”
“What did you make?”
“Fried rice and chicken.”
“Fried this, and fried that. Oh, so you want to kill me, abi?”
“Kill you ke? What do you mean? I –”
“So you don’t know that fried foods are unhealthy. You want me to die of a heart attack before I turn 40, abi?”
“You must be an ungrateful ass! I spent the last few hours, slaving away in this kitchen just to feed your sorry ass–”
“Where is all this bad language coming from? I have never heard you use such foul words. So you’ve been pretending abi? You clearly lack home training and your parents–”
“Leave my parents out of this! I’m not the only one who is full of surprises. What is wrong with you? I have no idea who you are anymore. You’re definitely not the person I was expecting to meet here, so tell me, between the two of us, who is the pretender?”
“You better stop shouting at me. Nobody yells at me in my own house!”
“House? House? Don’t make me laugh. You call this small carton a house? Have you seen the big mansions your mates are building at Lekki?”
“Why didn’t you marry one of them, ehn? Gold-digger!”
“Which gold do you have, Mr. Berlin? Oya, show me the gold. And you dare to open your mouth and call me a gold-digger. In your life, never you ever–”
Remi made as if to slap Kayode but he stopped her. It was at that moment, when she came face-to-face with him, that she realized for the first time that his eyes spoke volumes. Even though his face was generally expressionless, she could read his emotions by looking into his eyes. The heart searches for words to convey its anguish, its struggles, hoping to give these words to the mouth to deliver. But sometimes, the words pass from the heart to the eyes, leaving the mouth hungry and deeply dissatisfied. In these moments, the eyes do the talking. Kayode’s eyes spoke of a deep and serious internal struggle, which threw her off guard. It was clear that he was waging a battle against himself.
After threatening to call the police if she tried anything else, he retreated to his room. Remi was left alone, once again, with her thoughts. This pattern continued for two weeks, with Kayode mostly blaming Remi for something. If it wasn’t the food, it was the laundry. And if it wasn’t the laundry, it was the way Remi chose to clean the bathroom, throwing lots of water on the floor, and mopping it afterwards, the way she was accustomed to doing it in Nigeria.
Eventually, Remi called Kayode aside one weekend and told him in no uncertain terms, that she was tired of him finding fault with every little thing she did. They both finally agreed on a compromise: if Remi needed to do something and she was not sure how to do it, she would ask Kayode first. Kayode said he would be more patient with her seeing that she was trying to adjust to a new culture, and a new country. Such was the agreement this couple came to. One would have thought that two adults would have made this arrangement from Day One, but not Remi and Kayode. No. They worked backwards.
Later, that same day, Remi approached Kayode with another proposition. Although she had barely gone out of their apartment since her arrival, save for short walks around the neighborhood, and a few trips to the grocery store, she had not really met anyone or been anywhere in particular, that was of interest.
She informed Kayode that she would like to learn German. There was no point in postponing the inevitable, for if she was going to live in Germany, she might as well learn the language. So, she asked him to enroll her in a language class to while away her time. Remi was not surprised to hear Kayode voice his agreement with her new proposition. In fact, she expected it. He had felt guilty that Remi was left alone at home by herself all day, and they barely did anything together when he returned because he was usually exhausted after work. This would give her a chance to meet other people and keep her busy.
Within 24 hours of her request, Kayode had enrolled Remi at one of the numerous beginners’ classes for people looking to learn German. This particular class was held at a local art institute close to Central Berlin.
On her first day, Remi was surprised to meet several African immigrants taking the same class. But, the most surprising part was that there was a good number of Germans taking the same class. Apparently, they had grown up and lived in other mostly European countries, and spoke every other language except German. Remi considered this absurd, how a person with a German name, with roots closely-tied to Germany, could not speak the language.
But then, one of her classmates, a Sierra-Leonean man, pointed out that this was not very different from a familiar trend: Africans living in Africa and all over the world, who were fluent in every other language except their native languages. After making this observation, Remi was a lot more understanding.
Apart from this discovery, Remi made another startling discovery: of the 80 students in her class, roughly 47 of them were Turkish. In fact, the elderly gentleman who taught the class was a Turkish man who was born and raised in Bonn. He used to own a bookstore, but had since retired and handed over the reins to one of his children to manage. Remi usually stayed behind after class to ask him questions, which this patient man answered.
It was her teacher, who first suggested that Remi should change her transportation arrangements. She was always more than an hour early for class, since Kayode dropped her off around 7:30 am, as he had to be at work for 8. Class, however, did not start until 9am, and they ran every week day for three hours. Kayode initially took Remi to the venue for the first couple of days, on his way to work. But, after her teacher suggested an alternative transportation arrangement, Remi, who saw this as an opportunity to regain her independence, insisted on Kayode showing her how to use public transportation. That very weekend, Operation ‘Gain-My-Independence’ was launched.
On Saturday, Kayode took Remi on several test runs from the art institute to the train station nearest to their home, using the underground train, which the locals called the U-Bahn. The point, of course, was for Remi to master the route so that she could eventually ride the train on her own. After he had satisfied himself that she knew how to get from one point to the other, they went home. The following week would be time to see how much Remi had learned.
As it turned out, she had learned enough. Although she was very nervous, she was able to navigate her way seamlessly from home to her class, and back. With each passing day, her confidence grew, and she began to enjoy her independence little by little. She was enjoying her language class, meeting new people, and certainly not as bored as she had been just a few weeks back. Everything was going well for Remi. Until that day.
– to be continued –