The Montana Sisters
Amaka and I were known in the Igbo Youth League as the Montana Sisters. Many thought we were twins, and we could have easily been. We were only a year apart and looked alike, wide set eyes, full lips, identical birthmarks on our right earlobes.
We were called the Montana Sisters because we lived in Missoula, in our parents’ house, a large estate overlooking a forest of fir trees. The house had seven bedrooms, each one with a walk-in closet where Amaka and I stored our gele and asoebi and other wedding attire including our bright pink and yellow and green high heels. It was August. We had been to eight weddings since January. I was relieved that our upcoming trip to New Orleans, to the annual Igbo Youth League’s national convention, was something other than a wedding.
As I placed my clothes into my carry-on suitcase, arranging them by color and texture, Amaka burst into the room. She was holding a long, evening gown, emerald green. It had a low-cut neck and a slit along the left side that showed off Amaka’s long legs whenever she wore them.
“Soeur.” Amaka said in an exaggerated French accent. “Should I pack this?
I raised an eyebrow.
“Why would you need that?” I said. I couldn’t tell if she was mocking me.
“You never know,” she said, turning from me. I knew Amaka would pack the dress.
I followed Amaka to the backyard patio where we sat, staring at the forest. The trees were tall and thin, covering the acre of land that our parents owned, that our house sat on. Amaka and I had graduated from college at the University of Montana, and had subsequently returned home because our parents said this was the best way to save up money. When we returned to our teenage bedrooms, we had spent days removing boy band posters and Nickelodeon stickers from our walls. I had taken down several large Harry Potter banners, a Gryffindor scarf that hung from a nail, and a full-sized replica of a Nimbus 2000. In place of these childhood artifacts, I had put up abstract paintings and maps of the Parisian subway I had ridden every day for the six months I was abroad in Paris as a college junior.
In the backyard, I saw a flicker of something, and an elk bounced into the yard. It poked its head around the shrubbery, nibbled at something, then turned and headed back where it had come from.
“I love those damn animals,” Amaka said, her mouth covered in cantaloupe juice.
“I know,” I said, peeking at her from the top of my dog-eared book.
I often ask my immigrant parents how they ended up in Montana in the first place. My father’s answer always remains the same. He had finished his medical residency at the University of Montana, he did not want to move, so he stayed.
As a child, I had been fascinated by the landscape of my home state. I loved the mountains, the creeks, the meadows, the streams. In the fifth grade, we had taken a weeklong field trip to Yellowstone, and I remember the orange sun setting over the trees as we hiked down a trail that had taken us up to one of the park’s high peaks. When my parents bought the acre of land surrounding the house we had been raised in, I would spend hours roaming the property, picking flowers and rolling around in the tall grass. Now, I was twenty-seven and ready for somewhere else. Amaka, on the other hand, was quite satisfied with being here, in our parents’ large house, elk running through our backyard. She liked the big open sky, the smell of dewy grass, the winter chill, so cold our teeth rattled in our mouths. Unlike me, Amaka wanted to stay.
I wanted to leave Montana for many reasons. For one, there was little in Missoula outside the university. And though it was less conservative than the rest of the state, there were still people who asked us where we came from and sometimes told us to go back there.
Second, I wanted a life outside of my sister’s.
Amaka was what you would call an “Instagram Baddie,” or “Instagram Model,” or the more professional term, “Beauty Influencer.” She had 625,000 followers on Instagram and 255,000 followers on Twitter. She ran a YouTube channel that had nearly a million subscribers and this is how my sister made her living, posting makeup tutorials geared at Black girls and women. “This is for my dark sisters,” she started every tutorial. In the beginning, I would help Amaka set up her camera and decorate her bedroom for her shoots. But when Amaka upgraded to a semi-professional studio at the back of the house, I decided that it was time for me to focus on my own life.
Amaka was upset.
“What do you mean by ‘I think it’s time for us to think about our separate futures?” she told me that evening. We were seated in her new studio, surrounded by equipment, a large camera, bright lights, dangling microphones.
“I’m saying that this isn’t me,” I told Amaka. I wanted to tell her that I was too smart to be a beauty guru. I had ideas and theories. I had always thought myself smarter than my sister, more interested in life’s weightier subjects. While my sister had barely finished her degree, saying that school was a waste of time, one of the more unpleasant experiences of growing up, I had studied French and Philosophy and gone to Paris and Japan and graduated magna cum laude.
Amaka was upset for many weeks. But if she knew the ugly depths of my reasons for pulling away, she didn’t show it. I tried to ignore her, throwing myself into my own writing. I sent at a least a dozen pitches to news outlets and culture magazines every month. I wrote long form essays and listicles and reported pieces on feminism and Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. I joined the National Association of Black Journalists. After a whirlwind year in which I wrote thirty-six articles, I decided it was time for me to apply to full time jobs elsewhere.
Amaka would come into my bedroom as I filled out job applications and sit at the edge of my bed with her laptop.
“What do you think of this look?” she would ask me.
“Amaka, I’m on deadline,” I would say. In a perverse way, I relished this power. Seeing Amaka beg me, need me, made me feel strong, like the dynamic between us had finally turned in my favor.
When we were little, my mother’s Nigerian friends would remark at how poised and elegant Amaka was. They called her princess and madam. I didn’t have any nicknames. These women called me by my name. “Uchechi, bring us water.” “Uchechi, can’t you see that we are falling down with all these bags we are carrying?” I ran errands for much of my childhood while Amaka lounged here and there, eating fresh watermelon and cantaloupe and mangos and grapes. Amaka loved fresh fruits, loved all things sweet, and there was always something in her mouth, something tangy and watery and sugar-filled.
In the eighth grade, a boy named Mark bought Amaka a diamond necklace. In high school, her sophomore year and my freshman year, a senior totaled his car trying to impress her in a drag race. Men hovered over Amaka wherever she went. But Amaka has always had little interest in actually dating any of these men. She floats from one to the other, making promises, breaking them. I have watched her in action countless times. And I have noted, with fascination, how much I have wanted to learn her ways.
I applied to countless jobs in New York and Los Angeles. I flew to interviews only to be rejected at the final stage for not being a “culture fit,” which Amaka told me was code for “too Black.” Reeling, I went back to freelancing. I pitched and pitched. I wrote and wrote. But despite all my best efforts, my work did not garner the kind of attention Amaka’s got her. The closest I got to Internet fame was when Oprah retweeted one of my book reviews with the hashtag #ReadMoreBlackWomen. I gained 300 followers overnight. One of them reached out and asked me if I wanted to write a monthly book column. Another asked me to write an article about the state of publishing in regards to Black women writers. These were opportunities that opened doors for me, no doubt. But I didn’t have that coveted but elusive full time journalism job. The opportunity to blaze a path somewhere else, away from my sister’s shadow.
For her part, Amaka was supportive.
“Fuck them,” she said to me as I lay in bed moping. “It’s their loss.”
I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
By morning, Amaka was still packing.
“You had all week,” I said, looking at my watch. It was 3:00 a.m. Our Delta flight from the regional airport left at 5:30 a.m. It was the fastest way for us to get to New Orleans, one stop in Minneapolis. We had booked this ticket three months in advance. We had known about this year’s convention for a year.
When she emerged from her bedroom, Amaka looked elegant in a sleeveless dress, frills at the bottom. She was wearing sandals and her sunglasses were perched on top of her head. Amaka was wearing one of her no-makeup-makeup routines. I hadn’t bothered to dress up; I had learned early that there was no point when I was with Amaka. I’d come off as a caricature, as a cheap replica. So I resorted to frumpiness, sweatpants and flip flops and baggy t-shirts.
It was a surprise to everyone that Amaka wasn’t already married. Men met her and looked for a wedding ring. Older Nigerian mothers gasped and wondered aloud why such a beautiful girl could not find a husband. They tried to fix her up with their sons, their nephews, their second cousin’s young friend. But Amaka, ever independent, ever sure, was not interested in anything more than a fling. After many years and a series of broken hearts, Amaka had developed a reputation among the small Nigerian community in Montana and Idaho and Wyoming. Tired of being judged, she looked to a larger community. And that’s why five years ago we joined the national Igbo Youth League.
The Igbo Youth League was founded in 2007 by an Igbo immigrant family in Atlanta. It was a social and professional network that aimed to connect young first and second-generation Nigerian immigrants of Igbo extraction. There were thirteen chapters across the United States, in cities like Austin, Boston, and Cincinnati. Their chapter activities ranged from cooking classes to Igbo language lessons to professional development seminars.
The closest Igbo Youth League chapter to us in Missoula was in Minnesota, in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Amaka and I had contemplated starting our own small chapter in Missoula. But Amaka had become busier and busier and I had decided, resentfully, that I couldn’t shoulder the load alone. Despite all my best efforts, I could do nothing about this resentment, this ugly ogre of envy.
One evening, as I cried over another job rejection email, Amaka came and sat next to me.
“Why work for some asshole?” she told me, patting my shoulders as I cried. “Why not stay here? No rent, free food, working for yourself.”
“Amaka,” I said, shaking my head. I looked at her, her perfect skin, her easy smile. She wouldn’t have understood. And so I thought of other ways to get out of Montana. To this end, I decided on a tried and true method. I set my eyes on Okwudili Nwanze.
There was a boy we had grown up with, Okwudili Nwanze, who had had the guts to go away from Montana for college, to the University of Washington. Okwudili had been a big presence during my childhood. He was the funny class clown, the one who learned all the swear words first and taught them to us. We were particularly close because we shared the same sarcastic sense of humor. I wasn’t exactly the kind of person to push the envelope, but, with Okwudili, I was always bold. Around him I was more than Amaka’s sister. I was the one with the killer puns, the only girl who was not afraid to run after the frog in the bog, to hold it up over her head like it was Simba and sing the Lion King theme song. As we grew older, I became fonder of Okwudili until I realized I was in love with him.
The day I summoned the nerve to tell Okwudili how I felt, it was winter break freshman year. Okwudili was home for the holidays. He had left scrawny and come home muscular, his biceps bulging from his shirt. I was feeling reckless. Amaka had gone out with one of her girlfriends from high school, a white girl named Mackenzie, and Okwudili and I were seated so close to one another that our knees were touching. My parents were upstairs, but I was ballsy with defiance.
“Okwu,” I said into the air between us. “I’ve liked you for a long time. I think I might love you.”
It was the type of thing my sister would have said. But unlike her, I meant it. I wasn’t saying it just to get him to confess his own love for me and then dump him weeks later, saying my feelings had changed but we should still be friends.
Okwudili blinked. He looked puzzled.
“What?” he said.
“I think I love you.”
He took a deep breath.
“Uchechi,” he said slowly, frowning. “I’m flattered. But I’ve always thought of you as a friend.”
The thought of getting married before Amaka, of having this one thing over her, delighted me. I considered myself a staunch feminist and I was quite aware of the perverse nature of my longing, for a man to lead me away on a white horse. Yet, I woke up in the morning with a sense of defiant optimism. Okwudili was a means to an end. I was still drawn to him after all these years because he was a boy who I saw as immune to Amaka’s charms.
Okwudili had once told me that Amaka had a “dead-eyed” sort of beauty. I, on the other hand, had a more exciting kind of look, something earthy and raw. I had grown up being told how much I looked like my sister, but hearing Okwudili describe me as a distinct entity filled me with the kind of excitement that made me latch on to him in ways I would have condemned in other women.
I had been following Okwudili around the country for a few years. He now worked in Seattle, as a software engineer at Amazon. He was president of the Seattle chapter of the Igbo Youth League and his chapter had won Chapter of the Year at last year’s national convention. I had gone up to him afterwards and congratulated him and he had looked at me with his head to the side.
“You look nice,” he had said.
We talked for nearly an hour.
“We have so much fun together, Uch,” Okwudili had said as we parted ways. “You’re the one girl who truly gets me.”
In the Minneapolis airport, Amaka and I got sandwiches at a cafe and ate them at the boarding gate. Amaka was seated across from me, typing furiously on her cellphone. Her hair fell into her face and she pushed it back with her hands. It was one of the things I had over Amaka. Amaka's hands did not match her face. They were gnarly, birdlike, an old woman’s hands. There was a raised scar down the length of her left arm, acquired in Nigeria when a stove my mother was cooking with exploded, leaving them both with third degree burns.
As we sat, I watched Amaka. She crossed her legs and uncrossed them. She had a smile on her face and her teeth were perfectly white. When we were younger, Amaka was very insecure about her teeth. She begged for braces and when she finally got them, wore them for five years. I refused to get braces, thinking how ugly they would make me look. Now, Amaka’s teeth were fantastically straight. I imagined yanking them from her mouth.
When we lined up to board the flight, Amaka was still smiling at her cellphone. Then a young girl ran over to us, flailing her arms, and burst into tears. She had recognized Amaka.
“I’m your biggest fan,” she said, sobbing. “Amaka Barbie. Oh my god I can’t believe it’s you.”
Her mother was standing next to her and she looked on with one hand over her heart as Amaka signed the girl’s notecard. Amaka smiled elegantly, with her eyes, and I wondered if I made her look bad the way I was slouching and chewing my fingernails as she introduced me.
“Hi,” I said, shaking the young girl’s hand.
“You guys look alike,” the young girl said.
When we boarded the flight, I held on to this, hoping that it would steel me as we made our way towards New Orleans.
When we landed in New Orleans, I was thinking of my last conversation with Okwudili a year ago.
“You know,” he had said. “If, by thirty-five, neither of us are married, we should marry each other.”
“Who says I’d ever want to marry you,” I had teased Okwudili. But the suggestion had made me so happy. It wasn’t like I was still as obsessed with Okwudili as I had once been. Yet, I liked who I was around him. I told jokes and laughed with my head thrown back. I felt confident and wanted, even admired.
Amaka and I took an Uber to the hotel on Canal Street and when we arrived, it was filled with young Nigerians. We saw people chatting in the lobby, hovering around the bar, waiting in line at the reception desk. We saw people we had known for years now, Mesoma from Atlanta, Ebube from New York, Chinyere from Dallas. We hugged and shook hands with our friends. By the time Amaka and I made it to our room, I was exhausted.
That evening, there was a welcome mixer, a casual affair held in one of the hotel’s ballrooms. Amaka and I went together. But all eyes were on her.
“Why don’t I catch up with you later,” I told Amaka, realizing as always that I was no match for her.
“Where are you going?” Amaka said.
“Upstairs,” I said.
“Don’t be a fucking square,” Amaka said, dragging me to a crowded table where several men I did not recognize stood.
There were three men at the table, Ebuka, Chisom, and Donny. I shook each of their hands. They offered us drinks which I took gratefully.
“Amaka’s sister,” the man named Chisom said. “It’s great to finally meet you in the flesh.”
I tried my most charming smile. I thought Chisom was cute and wondered if he was flirting with me.
But a few drinks in and the men only wanted to talk to Amaka. They wanted to dance with her. They laughed out loud to her jokes. After many awkward minutes of trying to make conversation, standing literally outside the circle, I excused myself and went back up to the room.
On Instagram, Okwudili had posted a picture of himself holding a drink in the French Quarter. New Orleans Loading his caption read. The alcohol was burning my stomach. I texted him.
You’re here! I wrote.
He replied immediately.
Yes! Are you??
Yes! I texted back. I’m at the hotel.
Me too! He wrote. You still haven’t had lobster have you? What a better place than New Orleans to pop that cherry.
Yes! I said. Help me pop my lobster cherry.
Amaka was not interested in grabbing dinner with Okwudili and me. She found him crass and did not understand what I saw in him. It was nice to have that kind of friendship with a guy, I had once told Amaka. To feel like you didn’t have to pretend to be something other than human. But Amaka didn’t buy it. “He’s fucking weird,” she said. “And he makes you pretentious. Plus, he’s a fucking player. You know better.”
I went to meet Okwudili alone, changing into a yellow sundress that had once belonged to Amaka. I put on a makeup routine that Amaka had taught me, a light smoky eye, nude lipstick. I grabbed Amaka’s perfume from the dresser, thought better of it, and put it back.
At the crawfish place near the hotel, Okwudili was standing at the bar, drink in hand. He raised his glass as soon as he saw me. I walked over to him, balancing myself precariously on high heels, another thing that belonged to Amaka.
He was dressed in a flowered shirt, his buttons open, revealing a gold necklace and a smooth chest. He grinned at me, his eyes twinkling under the lights. My heart was beating in my chest. I imagined his lips on mine, his arms around me. Suddenly I felt clumsy, my hands clammy, my thighs sticking to one another.
“Uch,” he said. “What’s up?”
His smile curled sideways.
We talked about the weather, how humid it was, and his job, how stressful it was.
“They work us like dogs,” Okwudili said.
I said very little during dinner, letting Okwudili talk at length about his travels to Europe a few months earlier.
“Florence is beautiful, but I can’t stand Rome. Rome is always so crowded, the fountains, the restaurants, everywhere you go, tourists.”
“But you’re a tourist too,” I said.
“I’ve been to Rome so many times that I consider myself a quasi-local.”
“That’s rich,” I said.
“Still terrified of flying?” he said.
“I actually went to Mexico with Amaka last year,” I said.
“That’s awesome. Where?”
“Tulum. It was beautiful.”
Okwudili spent the next twenty minutes talking about his travels to Mexico, the summer he had traced the country by road, touching on many of its major cities. I listened attentively. Okwudili had always been able to tell a good story. I found myself enraptured, surfing in Puerto Vallarta, doing lines of coke in a Mexico City club bathroom.
“You been dating anyone?” Okwudili asked, finally stopping to catch his breath.
I shook my head. For a split second, I considered inventing a lover, someone to make him jealous. But I decided against it.
By the time I was out of the shower the next morning, Amaka had already left for the first events of the convention. She had gone to prepare for a panel she was featured in, a panel called “Girl Boss: Handling Business While in Business.” The panel was being moderated by one Chigo Okoli, a young stylist from Los Angeles who had dressed stars like Justin Bieber and Janelle Monae. It was part of the convention’s women empowerment series, a variation on a theme they had every year. Last year, Amaka had been on a similar panel, “Women and Work: Running a Business in Today’s Economy.” I was tired of all the emphasis on capitalist girl power.
The convention’s app let you create a schedule out of the dozens of panels and mixers that were scheduled over the three-day event. I had seen Amaka speak on countless panels and felt she wouldn’t have minded if I went to something else.
There was a panel scheduled for the same time as Amaka’s, one led by a relationship expert, Chinaza Emenna, who I had been following for a few years now. The panel was entitled “Love Languages: How to Get What You Need in a Relationship.” I dressed quickly and hurried downstairs.
The conventions were growing larger and larger by the year. By lunch time, I had met countless young Igbos, shaken so many hands. I had chatted with a budding rapper, exchanged contacts with an up-and-coming fiction writer. During one of the breakout sessions, I had sat at a table for creatives and had discovered that one of the women at the table had grown up on the same block that my parents had lived back in Nigeria. And during a meet and greet, I chatted with one of the members of Nigeria’s new bobsledding team.
I sat with Okwudili at lunch and batted my eyelids at him as he ate. He talked with his mouth full.
“Remember that time you fell at prom and showed the whole world your ass,” he chuckled.
“You were such a gentleman,” I said. “Covering me up with your suit jacket.”
After lunch, I found Amaka standing in the hall, surrounded by admirers. She was chatting away, finding people on social media. I felt my ears grow hot. But I considered my plan, leaving Amaka behind in Montana, and the thought, perverse as it was, made me giddy. I chewed my fingernails until they almost bled.
That evening, the convention held a special mixer that segued into an all-white party. In the hotel room, Amaka and I got dressed, zipping ourselves into form-fitting white dresses. We had spent much of the day apart and I had noticed once we both returned to the hotel room that Amaka was quieter than usual.
“Uchechi,” she said suddenly. “I noticed you weren’t at my panel this morning.”
She was standing at the mirror, leaning forward to adjust her mascara.
I looked up from the bed where I was seated, gathering my things into a small purse.
“How was it?” I said, avoiding Amaka’s eyes.
“Where were you?” she said.
“Another panel,” I said.
“I introduced you,” Amaka continued, turning from the mirror to look at me. “I said my sister is here, she’s a wonderful writer, together we’re a dynamic duo. Uchechi please stand up. And you were nowhere to be found.”
I looked at my hands, my chewed up fingernails, my creased knuckles.
I avoided Okwudili throughout the night, thinking of the sting of Amaka’s words. I walked in the opposite direction every time I saw him. But before the night was over, he found me. It was nearly 2 o’clock in the morning. I was sipping a large rum and coke, chatting with Nina, a nurse from Texas I had met at last year’s convention. She was a pediatric nurse and on her Instagram page were motivational quotes about living life to the fullest and persevering in the face of hardship. I thought she would be the right person to give me a pep talk.
“I can’t follow her everywhere,” I said to Nina. “I mean we are two completely different people, Amaka and me. I can’t continue to trail after her.” Nina nodded though she was distracted by her cellphone.
When Okwudili snuck up behind me and put his arms around my waist, I was feeling woeful. I turned to find him grinning at me, vodka on his breath.
“Uch,” he said. “You look so sexy tonight.”
Looking up and seeing that I was suddenly occupied, Nina winked, gave me a sly smile, and backed away.
Despite everything I was feeling, a smile stretched across my face.
When Okwudili led me out of the hall, I followed eagerly, my heart racing. We went up to his room on the seventh floor. He fumbled with his keys.
“Are you okay with this?” he asked.
We were already taking off our clothes.
“Yes. And you?” I said.
“Definitely,” he said.
We crawled into bed and Okwudili began to kiss me, gently at first then fiercely. I pulled him on top of me, but he insisted we do the opposite. I had never been on top, not with the two men I had slept with and the thought made me fearful, like I would expose my inexperience and lack of confidence. I got on top and tried to be the kind of lover I imagined that Amaka was.
“No, no,” Okwudili whispered. “Slow down.”
“Here,” he said. “Let me show you.”
I awoke the next morning to Okwudili singing in the shower. There were three missed calls from Amaka. “Where are you??”, she had texted me at 3 a.m. I rubbed my eyes, the remainder of my makeup coming off in my palms.
When Okwudili got out of the shower, he came over and kissed me on the lips. He pulled the covers away from me to admire my nakedness.
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
“Should we talk about this?” I asked. “Okwu, you know how I feel about you. I’ve always been serious about you.”
Okwudili sighed. He closed his eyes.
“You’re my closest girl friend,” Okwudili said. “I’m so chill around you. I know that I won’t find that with anyone else. Can we slow down? I feel like in the last few days I hardly recognize you.”
I left the room many minutes later clutching my shoes, my head throbbing. I took the elevator to the tenth floor and found Amaka reading in bed, her laptop open in front of her.
“Welcome back,” she said looking up. In her eyes was not anger, not disappointment, but pity.
“I was with Nina,” I said.
“Girl, please,” Amaka said. “I saw you leave with Okwudili.”
I looked directly at Amaka.
“And what about it?” I asked.
Amaka closed her laptop, took off her reading glasses.
“He’s playing you,” she said.
I flung my shoes across the room.
“Can’t I have anything?” I shouted. “Just one thing. No matter how small?”
Amaka shook her head. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I’m not you,” I said. “I don’t have everything laid at my feet.”
Amaka put her glasses back on and reopened her laptop.
“Do whatever you want,” she said. “But don’t make this about me.”
I texted Okwudili as soon as I got out of the shower.
“Lunch?” I wrote.
“Yes, definitely!” he wrote back.
I got dressed, in a mini-dress with a plunging neckline, a dress I had never imagined wearing when I bought it on a whim at Macy’s. Yet, I had packed it as soon as I saw that Amaka was packing her emerald dress. Now, I was going to go out there and do what I wanted, be who I wanted.
I walked down Canal Street and back to the crawfish place where Okwudili had agreed to meet me at 1 p.m. Our flight out of New Orleans was leaving that night at 9 p.m. I had plenty of time to try to salvage the situation. Okwudili had told me that if I wanted to leave Montana I could just leave. I could just pack my things and catch the next flight. Lots of people did that, left home with the clothes on their back. Look at our immigrant parents. What better example. I didn’t like his tone of voice, the way it suggested that I was stalling because I wanted to leave in a way that gave me power over my sister. Or perhaps I was projecting, putting words into his mouth.
At the restaurant, I selected a booth that overlooked the street and watched as the convention’s attendees walked back and forth between hotel and restaurants and liquor stores. They were carrying luggage now, carefree, enjoying the warm afternoon, a bittersweet return to whatever cities they had come from.
I sat for an hour, waiting for Okwudili. At 3 o’clock, I checked my watch and then called him for a fifth time. When I finally checked his Instagram page, I discovered that he was at a pool party three miles away at another hotel.
New Orleans is too much, he wrote beneath a picture of himself doing a handstand underneath the water. My tears stung my eyes. I wiped them with a napkin. A hole opened in my chest, threatening to swallow me. Okwudili had seen me in my ugliness and had made a choice. I buried my head in my palms and wailed. Then I got up and left the restaurant, walking back towards the hotel.
In our hotel room, Amaka was still on her computer. I stood before the bed we had shared that morning and burst into fresh sobs. Amaka looked up and there was a pained expression on her face.
“Uchechi,” she said. She climbed out of bed and came to my side.
“I hate seeing you like this,” she said.
I sat at the edge of the bed, my body convulsing with my sobs.
“Let’s move together, okay?” Amaka said. “LA, New York, you pick a place.”
I stopped crying and stared at Amaka.
“We’ll get an apartment,” she said. “We’ll make new friends, create opportunities for ourselves. It’ll just be you and me, us against the world.”
“But you love Montana,” I told Amaka, wiping my face with a tissue she had handed me.
“Not as much as I love you,” she said.
I thought about Amaka’s words for days, weeks, months. I turned them over in my head until they took various shapes and became several sounds. Three years have gone by and every week, I sit in Amaka’s studio in our home in Montana, watching her prep for a new video. The wind howls outside, the birds loud. There’s nothing else I can do.