I know, I know. But I’ve been mega busy, what with a new city and landlords and teaching and CDS…
I do have stories in my head and will put them down and post soon enough.
In the meantime, you can catch some of my work here: Dania on Daily Times
Today’s story is told once again by ‘Jibola Lawal. As with the previous piece, his enviable knack for detail makes it a long but worthwhile read.
I sat next to her on the hospital bed with her seemingly lifeless hand in my palms. I looked over at her swollen face, with the crown of her head wrapped in gauze. The stark whiteness of the hospital beddings contrasted with the ebony of her skin.
I had often joked that she was darker than the pot that called the kettle black. I remember how fondly she would smile and swat my arm playfully. The twinkle of mischief in her eye, and her smile could heal the sick in the same look that Medusa would turn men to stone.
Birds had already began chirping as the dawn gave way to a bright morning; but the sounds of the new day did nothing to drown out the sound of the EKG indicating that she still had life in her. The first rays of the sun seemed to alight carefully, like butterfly wings, on her face.
Could she hear me? They say people in comas hear everything you say somewhere beneath that mask of tranquility and obliviousness. There were tubes everywhere, it seemed they were without end — in her wrists, through her nose — everywhere. Her chest rose and fell slowly underneath the beddings but it felt like there was no life behind that face. How long had it been since the light had gone from it. Surely long before now.
You know how in romantic movies and soap operas, an on-screen couple would break up or something tragic happened to them so they had to be separated. Then a montage of the time they had spent together would be played. Or if you brought it closer to home — in Nollywood movies, the montages would contain the said couple playing tag in some random garden; and then switch to them chasing each other on the beach. It would probably also switch yet again to the couple in some branch of Mr. Bigg’s, feeding each other out of a small ice cream cup.
I struggled so hard to keep closed. No music played in my head, nor did any montage of happy times roll somewhere behind my eyes. These tears won’t drop. These tears won’t drop. These tears won’t drop.
They dropped, defiantly. One drop — from my left eye– followed closely by another from the right. And then like rain, the fallen drops called to the sky of my tear glands for more drops. It was soon a thunderstorm, as my vocal chords rumbled, while the memories flashed across my consciousness like lightning across the dark skies of my predicament.
“Each Red Rose stalk is Five Hundred and Fifty Naira” said the middle aged Asian lady seated with her store-help at the back of the store as they carefully worked together on an intricate flower arrangement. My quick mental math swung into action to calculate how many roses I could afford with the scarce means I had in my tattered leather wallet — a gift from my father, passed down from his own father. I could afford only 4 with the romantic Valentine’s day card I’d planned to buy at Yem-Yem Supermarket back in school.
“Gimme 3 roses, please” I said quickly so I wouldn’t seem like it was my first time getting a bunch of roses. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but then I had no idea how much these things cost. I was just determined to be the guy that showed up to see his girlfriend with a bunch of real roses. I was determined to floor my girlfriend.
Ok so, maybe I had seen more than my share of Hollywood romances. It was a challenge getting said roses seeing as there was no flower shop in my hall of residence — King Jaja Hall — or anywhere in the University of Lagos or its environs. The phrase, Google is your friend is no lie. I searched using the free wifi internet that the breeze sometimes blew our way from Faculty of Science, a short distance from the hostel. After an hour of searching with terms “Flower shop” “Island” “Lagos” (the odds of finding a flower shop on the mainland were dim anyway since all the ‘high-end’ things were on the Island); I found it. It was somewhere in the middle of Awolowo Road in Ikoyi.
The store-help carefully handed me the roses wrapped in layers of nylon, and then handed me the change with a smile on her face. I smiled back happily, hoping the smile on Chioma’s face would eclipse her’s. I made my way out of the store and into the street with an extra pep in my step. I soon caught myself whistling to an old Osadebe tune that I remember my father used to belt out on Saturday mornings when times were still good.
I knew the commercial biker –Okada-man -was overcharging me — at N100 for a ride from Ikoyi to Obalende–but I didn’t care. I was in traffic for 2 hours from there back to Unilag. I wasn’t worried about cutting a lot of classes because I was in my final year, so the course-load was a touch lighter. While in traffic, I read a couple of pages from a book by some Nwaubani girl. I was only a few pages in and I liked how funny her metaphors were.
A few hours later, I was showered and waiting at the ‘love garden’ in front of her hostel — Moremi Hall. It wasn’t much of a garden, nor was there that much love. It was just a patch of withering carpet grass with concrete high backed benches arranged in no particular order. And of course it had a kiosk that provided drink and snacks. I mean, what better way was there to lubricate the engines of love in an academic atmosphere than with over priced finger food.
I’d flashed –left missed calls for– Chioma thrice, meaning that I was in the garden. I was still waiting 15 minutes later. It didn’t mean anything to me, I could wait for her all my life.
I checked my Hublot for the third time in 15 minutes. I’m used to Chioma keeping me waiting. But it was really bad this time. I had stayed back 30 minutes at the office and even with the slight traffic between my office in Lagos Island and our favorite restaurant in Victoria Island, I still got here before her. This time I was nervous. The waiter had come to me again for the third time, and I was becoming testy. We had already talked earlier about what I had in mind. You cannot be more catholic than the Pope, I snapped at him in Ibo.
I’m sorry sir, he said quickly. The fear of the tip (or the absence of it) is the beginning of wisdom. I found it odd that my own country man would respond to me in English. And then out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the Thai people that owned the place walk past and I quickly understood.
It’s one of those things that would irritate me ordinarily. How ‘they’ would come from their own countries with only the clothes on their backs and lord over our own people. Why would a foreigner rule over — Nwafor — a son of the soil. I’d mull over it any other day of the week but not today. Somehow I couldn’t bring my mind to focus. I had only Chioma on my mind.
I raised the glass of water before me to my lips as I sighed heavily. Women are the greatest time wasters in the world after the television, my father always said in his many inspirational talks to me and my brother. How right he was.
I smelt her before I felt her arms surround me. Almost instantly the lines of worry on my face dissolved. All the things I was going to say to her were gone in an instant. Then she came round to my front and made kneel. Di’m, she started. I stood up and drew her to me. Nkemmm I drew it out and sighed.
“That Ozumba traffic, oh God” She began to say.
“It’s okay oo? Kedu?”
“O di nma”
I raised two fingers to the waiter. And he disappeared.
“What did you order?”
“I just thought I’d give their new chef’s special a try. I’ve heard that his meals are hard to forget”
“Ehen? Okay then”
“How was work?” She said as she absently fussed over my collar and dusted off some lint off the shoulder of my jacket.
“It was okay. We were able to meet that deadline today oh”. As I said this, the waiter returned with a covered dish platter, followed by another waiter with a bucket of champagne. Before she could ask me what we were celebrating, as I saw the question in her eyes, I went down on one knee and the waiter uncovered the platter. In the center of it sat a deep blue velvet box with the biggest rock I could afford set on a rose gold ring.
She screamed my native name at first, Chinedu!!!
“Marry me, Nkem, marry me.” The speech I had rehearsed in front the mirror in the morning and severally at work had completely flown away from my mind.
Her voice like music to my ears, Yes, yes, yes, yes,
Yes Chinedu, yes.
We had quarreled bitterly that morning. In our 3 years of marriage, it had never been this bad — ever. Her words still rang in my head.
And when I need you to quench my fires. To make love to me! Your WIFE! You never linger more than a minute!
E bu nwoke? Ehn? Are you a man?
Or do you have other women you’re giving your strength to? Tell me!
I made to walk away, like I always did every time I got angry. But she pulled me by my wrist, and yelled: Or do you not love me again?!
Sticks and stones! God! Her words pierced straight to my heart. With the way I looked at her, I think the deflated look on my face made her release me.
I sighed heavily as I pushed back my chair from the desk and stood up. My weekly schedule for the following week was still just a sea of white with a net of boxes in Microsoft Excel. I walked away from my desk, and out into the corridor. Chioma’s voice followed me there as well, with the echoes bouncing off the walls.
Ikot-Ekpene today! Oloibiri tomorrow! Are you the only staff that Shell has? Abi is that where you have your concubines?! You used to love me Chinedu George Nwabuife! You used to!
How did we get here? We were always so happy. Always. We had come a long way together. I don’t understand why she complained so much. She of all people knew where we were coming from, and how hard it was to get here. You are always working late! And you leave before the crack of dawn! Ahnahn! Did she ever in her life imagine that she’d be a resident of Lekki Phase 1. Or that her younger ones would end up in private schools. Or that she’d be driving a CR-V so soon.
I was soon outside the office building. With the cold of air-conditioners gone, the fresh breeze from the Marina blowing against my starched shirt and pants. The Shell workers of Sterling Towers fondly called this place the smoker’s section — since they couldn’t smoke anywhere in the building. The white folks and some of our own people who had been trained abroad availed themselves of the open air. I come here to think every time I need to unburden his mind.
As usual, Mr. Attenborough from 4th floor was here. He came thrice (as far as I know) during the day, to get the load off. Although he bore no resemblance to the BBC documentary naturalist –with his jet black hair and stout features– he was called Mr. BBC anyway. He nodded his head as he raised the almost spent cigarette to his lips, dragging the last few centimeters of tobacco left on it. As always, he raised his packet of Benson & Hedges with a smile, just in case I’d changed my habits since the last time we’d seen each other.
Of course, I felt I had bigger problems. So I raised my right thumb up as always, with a smile that felt like a grimace, to indicate that I’d rather not. I plunged myself into my thoughts, analyzing and dissecting like my years of studying Petroluem & Gas Engineering had taught me. I had only been there a few minutes when I made up my mind.
I am going home.
I didn’t know much about these things but being with, and loving someone, gave you an all access pass to knowing them and what they liked. Over the years, I’d learnt that my wife liked her wine white, her chocolate dark and the soles of her shoes red. Until recently, we had never had to fight so I had never had to pull out the olive branch unless I just wanted to surprise my wife for the hell of it.
She wasn’t going to be back, from her shop in Okota, for another hour and half. So it would give me time to shower, run the bath, get everything ready and generally brace myself. I’d explain to her possibly over dinner, mentally checking that the Spaghetti and meat balls ingredients were all complete in the grocery bag in my hands. It was the only meal I could make by myself. But I’d do it right.
I let myself into our flat and rushed straight to the kitchen. I set down all I had bought on the kitchen counter and got to banging pots and pans. I was still in my office clothes but with an apron around me for protection. I didn’t have that much time on my hands. The water soon began to boil and I tossed in the spaghetti and got to making the sauce. I looked at my wristwatch, 7 minutes in and I was making profound progress. And then I heard the scream.
Mrs. Uwadia was beating her daughter again. Eeyaa. I never understood why the girl screamed so much. We all got flogged by our parents, and see how well we turned out. I thought my father was devil spawn himself, like how could you beat a human being with a stick from the bitter leaf tree — because of one red biro score in a sea of an All A’s result. I thought this and then I heard the groan. This is serious.
I crushed some Maggi into the already frying sauce and walked out into the living room. Not that I would beg for the girl, but then it wouldn’t do for a mother to kill her own child. The tortured groan had to have meant some form of torture.
In the living room, my mind changed instantly. The noise was from MY flat! My mind raced and then I heard a male groan. Ewhuuuu! This Chidubem boy will not kill me! So when everybody is not at home this is what he does! I creeped closer to the living area but Chidubem was not copulating in his own room. Wait is that MY BEDROOM?! Surely the gazelle, no matter how fast it is, must have some respect for the Cheetah?!
I took off my shoes and rolled my sleeves. I went to pick the cane from behind the home theatre system. I told Mama I didn’t want him in my house, his younger brother Ebuka was better behaved. I strode angrily over to my bedroom. No wonder he’s always at the bottom of the class! I will beat stupid and nonsense in him today! His machete will not rise at the sight of a woman by the time I am finished with him! I will–
You know how in those Nollywood movies when a spouse is caught in bed with a lover and then the scorned spouse shouts, “Ekenne, what are you doing?” or “Ifeoma, what’s going on here?” It’s all lies. Stupid questions will never come to your head. Or rather no questions will, at least not for the first 5 seconds. You will be weak as a banana peel. I dropped the cane with Chidubem’s name written on it.
I watched my wife, rise and fall, writhe and gyrate on top of the stranger. Like she meant to introduce me to him, she threw her head back, and groaned “Gbeenga!”. Ah, Onye Ngbati-ngbati. That must have been when life returned to my brain and it began to boil. My whole vision changed to red. I matched over to the bedside and picked the bedside lamp. The light-skinned home-wrecker must have been in the Olympics with how nimbly he had pushed my wife off himself and bounded off the bed in one fell swoop.
Chioma was still stunned as she bounced on the bed, but one look at my face and her confusion was replaced with shock and something else. Fear? Sadness? Regret? Remorse? She was going to tell me that it was the devil, that it was the first time. “Chine-” she started to say and I slapped her. She still made to speak again and I saw red-er, rivaling the lone drops of blood I saw exit her mouth, almost in slow motion, at the second slap. Whyyyyy???!!! I screamed, as tears coursed down my cheeks. I balled my hands into fists and struck her jaw. Nkem why? Why??? I punched her belly like I was in the ring. I was fighting, fighting to save us. Fighting to keep our love.
That was yesterday. I don’t remember much of it because I must have blacked out. All I remember is staring through tears at my bloodied fists, as I sat on the floor. I couldn’t bear to sit on the defiled bed. Mrs. Uwadia rushed into my bedroom and dragged me to my feet. I was in a fish bowl and her words came to me in bursts. Your wife. Hit. Car. In front. House. Hospital. Now! She must have run out into the street, driven to insanity by my fists. I didn’t mean to hurt her. I lost control. I-I don’t know what came over me. I just know I love her.
I clasped her hand tighter, as I wailed harder.
Baby, I’m sorry. I love you.
Judge me, my name is George.