Death of a Man
Chukwukwe Eugenia Adaku
I once saw a man die. No, his body was not mutilated and deformed. He was not murdered, nor did he kill himself. He did not succumb to any disease or ailment. There was no corpse, no remains. But he was dead, make no mistake.
I stood with unblinking eyes as I heard the exchange unfold. A perfect stranger to me, he stood on the porch of a large, green, two-story house four doors down from my aunty own. I did not hear the beginning of his conversation, but I understood from the urgent lamentation that stumbled from his quivering cheeks and trembling hands that he was clinging to a prayer now.
“Benita, please,” he begged, dropping quickly to his knees with his hands clenched tightly into a supplicant grasp, bobbing gently in front of the large, oak door that stood ajar. A tall, long-haired woman stood perched in the doorway, one arm casually resting against the frame, another placed just above her hip, her slender and evenly tanned legs crossed one in front of the other. She wore an interested expression, but did not speak.
“Benita, please,” the man continued. “Please don’t do this to me. After all this time, why are you doing this? What changed, what happened? What did I do?” The woman peered down at the groveling man, expression and posture unchanged. Still she did not speak.
“I love you, Benita. I’ve given you my whole heart, my whole being–every fiber of it is yours, I can’t just take it back. I don’t have any left to give, nothing more I can say or do…didn’t it used to be enough? What happened, Benita?” the man continued with an agonized expression, his face contorting to struggle to get out the words as he
spluttered and coughed and sobbed.
And still, the woman stood in the doorway, unmoved. She blinked once, slowly, intentionally, then quietly exhaled. She removed her hand from the doorway, lifted her hand from her hip, and crossed her arms across her chest, instead choosing to lean her shoulder against the door.
“I would give everything for you Benita; I have given everything for you,” the man whispered. He inched closer to her, crouching slightly, and dug into his pocket. He kept his hands there momentarily and closed his eyes, releasing a shuddering breath of air before he continued. “I’ve been wanting to give this to you for three days now, waiting for the most perfect opportunity to surprise and delight you. Waiting for a time when I knew your eyes would sparkle like the diamonds they’d be reflected in,
when I knew you would look at me and nod, just nod, because you were too emotional to say yes.” Slowly, hesitantly, the man cupped one hand and uncovered the other, revealing a small, velvet box. With shaking fingers he gingerly opened the lid to the box, revealing a brilliant and exquisite loop of gold embedded with diamonds–the most amazing ring I had ever seen. But it was not the diamonds nor the gold that made it amazing: there was
something else about it, some other quality it was imbued with that couldn’t be seen, only felt. The ring was permeated by an aura of pure love, the strongest I had seen at that time in my life. It had infinitely more inherent value than the expensive gems and metals the ring was physically composed of, and it caused me to catch my breath. I had never seen something so beautiful in my life.
The man cast his eyes hopefully up at the statuesque woman. “I…I never wanted to ask you like this, never would have imagined these would be the circumstances, but I’d rather ask you now than risk losing you: Benita, I love you more than anything, more than I can express. This ring is merely symbolic of how much you mean to me–it’s indescribably more. You are–and of this I’m certain–the only person in this world I can love this way, this much.
I want, I need, to spend the rest of my life with you. Benita…will you marry me?” His earnest expression, absolutely bursting with hope, channeled all the desire he could muster. Time seemed to stop as he crouched, arms outstretched, pleading for an answer. As the seconds ticked by, his confidence faded, but still he did not retract his arm or his hope. After what felt like minutes, the woman unfolded her arms, and stopped leaning in the doorway. She still did not speak, did not make a sound. She took one step back, then fluidly closed the door in the man’s face. When the lock clicked
into place with a distinct clack , the man stared at the door for a moment, then collapsed. He lay in a crumpled heap, his right arm outstretched, and lay motionless on the ground. He did not cry, he did not moan, he did not move. He just lay there, still clutching the ring in his hand.
I stood watching for what seemed like hours. The man lay inert, the woman was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, the man pushed himself to his knees, and gently placed the ring and box on the wide doorstep. He sat looking at it momentarily, then stood up and achingly walked across the street to where he was parked. As he stepped from the sidewalk, I caught sight of his face–there was no life in it. Though he walked, there was no desire to
move.Though he looked, there was no desire to see. Though he heard, there was no desire to listen. He was a shell of a man, his heart and more ripped out of his body. I wanted to cry for him, wanted to reach out and hold him and console him. But it would have done nothing, because he was gone, there was nobody to save.
He was dead.