At the end of three months my search for Asata directed me to Newport Street, in the heart of Monrovia.
My informant said he was sure as day followed night.
“I saw her there,” he said, grinning, “you’ll not believe how pretty she now look.” My face danced with joy, and clearly I could not control my emotions.
I said, “Is she a real beauty as you've said?”
Gbessay laughed, and corked his head on one side, said, “I tell you she is some beauty.”
“Tell me more about her,” I said, as the thought of Asata danced in my mind with anticipation, “be frank with me, and do me the favor.”
Gbessay was sixteen when I was bubbling with love for Asata. Now twenty-two, he had grown up, and was someone I could believe.
He said, “I know you’ve been searching for her,” and hesitated for a moment, and I did not disappoint him, when I said, “I’ve been here,” meaning Vai Town, just across from Monrovia, “on the last three months and only you now telling me where I can find her.”
“We talked about you,” he said, smiling, “When she could not hear from you, maybe she thought you died like many others.”
I could not blame her, for thinking the worst for me; many young men were killed as the Liberian war held on.
“Is a wonder,” I said, with some dignity, “that many of us survived this war.”
“I know,” Gbessay said, “Asata will be glad to see you,” then I felt some inner dissatisfaction. Was Gbessay, like many Christian people, speaking in tongue?
This could not be happening.
“You’re not hiding anything from me, Gbessay?”
“Tony,” he told me, “you must believe what I’m telling you.”
So, I said, “What are you telling me?”
He said, “Follow my direction and right after the huge building on Newport Street, after the school you’ll find her, or ask for her.”
I told him how great he was, and that I appreciated his help, and bid him goodbye.
Thirty minutes later, I was on Newport Street, and having passed by the school Gbessay mentioned, I slowed down, and walked leisurely, whistling to myself.
Suddenly, my steps lost their agility. I then crossed the road toward Asata’s residence.
At first my eyes deceived me, refusing to accept Asata, who seemed to be busy, at the corner of an old brick house.
Her lanky frame hovered over the side of the road where a young man was putting some woods at their place.
The sun beat hard on me, and several people walked about the place.
Then, like a dream, I saw an old woman standing at the corner, near Asata, pointing her finger at me.
I could not recognize Hadja at first, for the years of the civil-war had had a telling effect on her and had changed her, reducing her to a bundle of human caricature in a packaged cloth from her head to her toes. She might have run from this place and to another place, and as frail as she was, I knew she could not live through it.
But she did.
Hadja, her title, meant she was one of the fortunate ones who had fulfilled their religious duty, and had visited the holy city of Mecca, the birth place of the Prophet Muhammad.
Hadja was highly respected in the community because of that success, and though she had encouraged me to visit the mosque, I never took it with any seriousness.
As a woman with deep faith, she wanted her daughter, Asata, to marry someone who would follow her footsteps, and worship Allah, as she had been brought up.
But now it would appear that my failure to attend services at the mosque, and the coming of the unfortunate civil-war had all conspired to deny me the woman I had once dreamed of having as a wife and the future mother of my children.
As I moved closer to the house that I had been told Asata now lived, my heart bubbled with anticipation, imagining what she would say to me.
In my heart, I was preparing to rush at her and hug her, and give thanks to Allah for preserving her.
On my right, near a string of houses was a young beauty, busily engaged in some chores, her lanky frame revealing to me that she might have been the object of my search. Her hair was braided, the attachment flowing on her back and over her face.
She was my Asata, I was now convinced, watching her closely, but my mind deceived me, suggesting she could be someone else, for Asata, though was tall, could not be the woman I feeding my eyes on presently.
Was this Asata? How she had changed so much and more beautiful now!
My heart thumbed in my chest as my feet walked their way towards the house. Since the information about her present residence did not hint about any changes in her life-style, I did not suspect any untoward surprise.
But when I saw the old woman pointing her finger at me, something in me suggested right away that something was afoot.
What was it? I did not care, all I cared about was searching for my Asata, and turning my head to look at heaven, I said a silent prayer, begging the good old man above to show me the way.
By now I was almost at the entrance of the house, and the old woman smiled, and it was a painful one. She rubbed her two hands together, and when I turned to look on my right, the young woman turned swiftly, and smiled at me.
“Oh my God,” I yelled in my heart, and smiled back at her.
“You found me,” she said, and dimples on either jaw on her face did not mislead me, I concluded she was my Asata.
But it seemed that something was not right with her. Under her smile I sensed her pain of anguish which was visible on her face, and it was the kind of loss, which eventually was to be mine alone.
She turned her head and regarded at the man engrossed in his work, and nodded.
Under normal circumstances, I would have wept, beat my chest and looked up to heaven, asking God why should I lose, but I was calm. She began to explain her eventual journey into marriage with the man who had replaced me.
“I did not know whether you survived the war,” she said, her eyes downcast, “my ma is old now,” pointing to Hadja, “and so…” her voice trailed off, and I felt sorry for myself, for what she was about to disclose to me.
I mustered a little courage, and said, my hands shaking like a car with an idling engine, “So you have to get married?” The question taunted me, and unable to control my emotions, I went on, “I searched for you everywhere,” as if that was enough justification.
She looked away, and smiled. It was a smile I had known long before the Liberian civil-war began on 24 December, 1989.
“I have to marry,” she said, and it was enough for me, for what else could she say again? Then fragments of the most touching melody intruded into my mind, and I could hear the song, “How Lonely Are Those Who Are Disappointed,” in my ears. But interestingly, I was aware of the popular opinion that "every misfortune is a blessing," that I would have to work with to ensure how true it was.
“So,” I managed, after struggling to regain my bearings, to say, “you can no longer be mine?”
She might have thought my question silly, though the answer was obvious. What was I expecting her to do now, marry two men? I bowed my head in agreement, and with trembling hands, stared at her in silence. The echo of passing breeze swept around us, and I fought hard not to give in to tears.
She turned her back to me, and looked at Hadja, whose smile was full of what I could only understand as resentment, since her daughter had already been married. Though she knew how much I loved Asata, but with new circumstances in her daughter's life, she might have wondered about my appearance since until life turned upside down, Asata made her to believe I was the only man in her life. I could not be angry with her, for I admitted with a great deal of reluctance that while I was gone, time did not wait for me.
“I’ll miss you, Asata,” I heard my voice crying out in anguish, as if that was not an obvious result, particularly when I realized that a tear was threatening to expose my weakness. I then turned my face away from her, and decided to leave her in peace.
Painfully, my legs responded, and ambled away from her.
She shouted at me: “I’ll not forget you,” but what should I care?
I was moving on, though let down, beaten and crushed.
Few minutes later I knew the danger had come and the risk was gone. My eyes felt tired, and at one point I wanted to cry. It was a difficult situation for me, walking away from Asata, the young woman whose fascination had brought me such an unexpected torment.
Her cool voice kept repeating itself in my ears, “I tried to find you and when I could not find you, my ma advised me to find happiness somewhere,” and though the verdict was cruel, I could not blame her for what she had done.
I felt nauseous, but my inner feeling urged me on to accept it, for it was clear that I had lost the battle.
“I’m married now, sorry,” came back to haunt me. The afternoon sun beat harder on me, as if it was a divine punishment for my past bad deeds. As I moved on, the world seemed to be passing by me in a rush and by now my breathing had slowed down suddenly.
Meanwhile, I wanted to stand aside somewhere on Newport Street, and gaze at her, and drink in her beauty, but I decided it was too late that, for to fight a losing battle war would demand more than ordinary tears of disappointment and frustration. Though I had a great deal of love for her, the reality was that she on the other hand had no affection for me. Afterward, I believed the popular maxim that "out of sight, out of mind."
My mind posed a surreal question to me, asking, “For what purpose?” and I could not find within myself to answer it.
A glacial pang of pain hit my side, like the stab of a dagger of ice frozen from a poisoned well. My body was becoming adjusted to the message of doom as I heard it.
I asked myself, “Is she happy?” and my mind answered, “If she is not happy she would not have told you that she was married,” a response that was ominous like the message Asata delivered to me.
It was like a shuffling compromise between defiance and prostration, and walking away towards the bus or taxi rank, what appeared like stars danced before me. I was seeing things double, and I knew that Asata was gone for good.
I felt her loss, but then I reminded myself that it was merely the loss of another chapter in my life.
“I’ll move on,” I said under my breath, admitting the truth that I had lost her forever.
It was then that I made a resolution not to let things take me by surprise, though events leading to the loss of Asata were things I could not control and they were reasons for which I could not hold her responsible. It had been many years now since that experience and realizing that life is how one makes it; I am not taking any chances now. Though the memory of Asata had always come to haunt me, I made use of it, as a new chapter in my life directing my focus to strike when the iron is hot.