The old man’s laughter rattled the windows of the house – even though he was sitting in the backyard.
“My son, what have I tell you? I mean what do I told you? Dat ya wife is onye na amughi nwa – she cannot carry shuldren! But luff – luff haff bland you; common sense come commot for ya sense!”
Frank leaned back in the cane chair and sighed. He sure wished his mother was home.
“Look papa, just because Igo couldn’t – just because we couldn’t make babies doesn’t mean you should insult my wife.”
Pa Omure cackled loudly and slapped his only son on the shoulder. “Hohohohoho…weeeeee! You no go ki’ mi!” He suddenly pushed his face up against his son’s. “You get wife?”
Frank reared back and almost fell off the chair. “Pa…okay. I don’t have. Not since I did what you asked. Are you happy now?”
The older man touched his chest. “Me? I dey always hapi – always! Your sister jus’ commot wit her husband and shuldrens for hia! Your small sister!”
Frank hung his head. No matter how detached he tried to act, his father’s words stung. “It’s not like we – it’s not as if I didn’t want children, papa. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be for…”
“And dat is why I yam happi you haff use your common sense to commot from dia!” Pa Omure’s voice was reduced to a whisper. “When woman is dey her husband house, she cannot produce pikin, what is the value inside such a…”
“Papa, did you call me here to listen to you insult my wife?”
“You no get wife. You nefa get. Na why I call you hia be dat. You go fit meet Idowu, my neighbor pikin…”
“Franklin! Franklin o, my son!”
Mama Omure’s entry into the backyard was very much like the arrival of a gale. Light-skinned, buxom and tall – she was an easy six feet two – her presence was hard enough to ignore, and then she was lively and energetic – in spite of her sixty-something years.
“How are you my darling? No, don’t answer that. You look horrible.” She bent over and pulled his cheeks as he struggled to rise. “You’ve lost weight! Of course you have, when you sent the only person in this world who cares about you apart from me…”
“Mama, I have missed you so much.” Frank interrupted the lamenting woman, squeezing her against himself and hiding his face in her shoulder so she wouldn’t see the tears. “How is everything? Papa was just telling me that Evelyn came over..”
Mama Omure eased herself away from her son and went over to her husband. “Good evening, Pa Franklin. How’s your body?”
Not waiting for an answer, she handed the old man the black nylon bag she was carrying. “I bought you some cashew nuts. You can chew on that while I make dinner.”
And then, pulling her son by the hand she led the way into the dark interior of the house.
“Are you okay, Franklin? I know I ask all the time but – are you really okay?”
Frank leaned against the kitchen sink and closed his eyes, sighing softly. “What do you expect me to say, mama? How can I be okay?”
He felt rather than saw his mother leave the vegetables she was washing – felt her come stand beside him, worry heavy in her voice. “But darling, you decided to ask Igo for a divorce…though come to think of it, she didn’t exactly protest…”
“Yes mama, I asked for the divorce. When I saw myself almost cheating on my wife of twelve years because somehow, my desire for a child had overcome my desire for her, what was I supposed to do?” He opened his eyes and turned to look his mother right in the face. “I know I asked for the divorce – but that doesn’t make it easy.”
“And we are also not making it any easier for you.” She squeezed his shoulders in a gentle hug. “I apologize for your father and I. What you need is our support, not our criticism.” She left him and walked back to the gas cooker. “How is work?”
“Work…” his voice faded away. “Work? How can I work, Nne? I cannot concentrate, I cannot do anything. I keep thinking about…” He went quiet for a bit – and then continued. “Work is fine.”
His mother chuckled. “Ah, Franklin. I think what you need for now is to rest. Rest, and allow yourself time to heal. Everybody seems to be in such a hurry these days.” She hit the spoon on the edge of the pot before turning to regard Frank patiently. “Understand your father. You’re his only son – the only hope he has of his name going on. Doesn’t mean much to me – but you can understand what that would mean to a traditional Ndigbo man.”
Franklin smiled wryly. “An Ndigbo chief, you mean.”
His mother laughed – and then Frank interrupted. “But Nne, what is this I hear about you getting me a wife?”
She sighed. “There’s this neighbor of ours your father is suddenly best friends with – and he has a daughter who is still unmarried…”
“Did this idea start after my divorce or before I even started – “
A phone started to ring – and Frank looked at his mother. “That’s me,” he said, pulling at the phone. “Let me just see who – “
The caller ID said one word; Igo.
“It would be good if you came early, Frannie – I mean Frank,” his ex-wife breathed into the phone. “The lawyers say it’s just a few small details about the account and businesses…”
“I already said I didn’t want anything from that – “
“I don’t want it either – but we signed papers. We signed papers, which means you cannot just pass them to whoever vocally. There has to be another set of signings or…”
Frank exhaled loudly. “Okay okay. I’ll be there by nine in the morning…nine is okay, abi?”
“Nine is fine, Frank. Good night.”
“Wait.” Frank said desperately. “Igo…are you…how are you?”
A sound that sounded curiously like a sob floated down the line, and then Igo answered harshly, “What do you care?”
Frank stood in the shadows of the corridor in his parents’ house in Bariga, looking at the phone in hand but not really seeing it.
“Frank! Food is done o!”
Snapping out of his reverie, he answered, “Coming ma!” and then dialed another number. The call went through – and was picked on the third ring.
“Hi James. Look, I won’t be coming to work for a while. I have some things to sort out and take care of – so I’m leaving you in charge, you hear? Take care of everything.”
“Oga – I hope no problem o. Shey madam dey – “
“There is no problem. Look, just do as I say. You hear?” Frank impatiently interrupted him.
“Okay. Everything will be as you want it to be oga.”
“Thank you. Good night, James.”
“Good night, oga.”
“You’ve lost weight, Frank.”
He chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s what everyone’s been telling me lately – and yet I hardly miss a meal. Maybe buka food doesn’t exactly agree with me.” He laughed again, emptily; hollowly. “Mama said the same yesterday; and tried to load me with food enough so I wouldn’t be hungry till next year.”
Igo smiled wanly. “And of course, you tried to eat everything. I don’t blame you; mama can cook.” She paused – and then rushed on as though afraid of being silenced. “How is she…and and papa…?”
Her voice shook.
“She misses you, Igo.”
His ex-wife nodded and looked away, brushing her eyes free of something that may have been tears and mumbling something Frank couldn’t hear.
“What?” he asked.
“Our lawyers are ready,” Igo answered, and walked ahead of him into a dark room.
He knew there was a much better way of spending the time he was in that room, sitting across his ex-wife and staring at her like she was someone he did not know – but the going ons in the room didn’t interest him.
He hastily signed every paper he was handed without looking – he trusted that Damilola, his lawyer would have made sure it was safe and well; he found it distracting.
He continued watching Igo, taking in everything she did – every move she made and making something; a memory of it. For all he knew, this was the last time he would see her so he wanted to make it significant.
He watched every unconscious tucking of a stray strand of braided hair; every hesitant smile at her lawyer (who he thought was staring at her a bit too boldly and quite unprofessionally), every unsteady scribble of her pen – every accidental glance his way – and something filled his chest.
Pain. And regret.
When she sighed and straightened, he realized they were done – he realized his lawyer had been talking to him for a bit. Frank coughed, and then turned slightly towards his right hand.
“Sorry I didn’t hear you,” he said.
“Sure.” Damilola grimaced. “Everything is tidy now. You have access to some money from the joint – “ Frank interrupted, rising hurriedly and knocking back his chair as he saw Igo exit the room. “I’m sorry! I’ll be right back!” he yelled over his shoulder as he hurried after her.
“Igo – Igo! Wait!”
Her shoulders hunched as though she expected a blow, and then she turned slowly – but her eyes – her face – remained averted. “Yes, what is it?” she asked in a voice that was tired yet trying to be angry. “What do you want?” she said again, her voice sharper than it was before.
“I don’t want anything…well that’s not true, but what I want…” he trailed off when he saw the baleful look she regarded him with. “I just want to say I’m sorry – I’m so sorry for…”
“You can save your apologies Frank, or repeat them to yourself if it makes you feel better. I don’t want to hear them; I’m not listening to any more of your nonsense. For twelve years – “ Her voice broke; she drew in a sobbing breath and buried her face in her hands.
“Igo…” Frank began, reaching for her hand.
“Don’t touch me!” She whirled on him, tear-streaked eyes blazing with fires that seemed to leap at him. He didn’t immediately realize he had taken a step back.
“Don’t touch me…” her voice faded to a whisper; but the vehemence was still quite obvious. “I gave twelve years of my life to you; to a marriage simply because I believed in it. Do you think you were the only one under pressure?! I have a family too; and the same way your dad told you to leave me is how my parents, friends – siblings…” She wiped her eyes and continued.
“I loved you, Frank. I invested twelve years of my life in you, in us. The years weren’t always rosy – but I gave my all. I realize now; you didn’t deserve my best – and you sure didn’t deserve me.” She turned and started walking away. She was opening the main door to step into outside when she said something – but the door had closed behind her before he realized what she said;
Stay away from me.
“Frank…Frank? I’m sorry – but we need to see to the rest of these – “
“Send them to the shop, will you Damilola? Thank you.”
And Frank walked out into the sunlight outside – though it could be moonlight and thunderstorms for all the notice he took of it.
After twelve years of a supposedly-happy marriage, a man is pressured into leaving his wife because they don’t have a child of their own. But he comes to ask himself – are children really the most important part of a marriage?
May God preserve us. Join me on this journey.
See You Then!
I just want to drink you away;
Forget I ever met you
Forget that at some point
I did call you special
Forget about forgetting
That you were ever here to –
But it’s crazy
I can’t forget the smell of your hairdo
Coconuts and oranges;
You left them everywhere boo
The room, the books – and all inside my head too
Ran away from it all
No longer know where to head to
They say love is crazy;
Oh right. You done heard too?
You were afraid; I dig that
Yes, I was scared too
Should have shared my fears
But I was too scared to
So I kept shut
Pretended I didn’t care too
Acting like a model
Don’t know where the catwalk led to
So I put tears in your heart
All the while my eyes bled too
Bedsheets were white
Fucked till they became red too
Got caught up in myself
Forgetting you were here too
Now imagine the gall of me asking
Where are you?
Where. Are. You, My Heart?
She smells of Imperial Lather.
I hug her firmly, squeezing her chubby-fat nine-year old frame. Her thick arms circle my neck and she squeezes back. In this moment I’m as young as she is, giggling and laughing and holding on for dear life. The way we are behaving you would think we haven’t seen each other all her life.
But I was here yesterday. Not that it matters.
Inhaling, I draw in the sweet-smelling scent of her ‘shukued’ hair – hair her mother spent quite some time making. I breathe in my daughter, trying to close my mind to the image that keeps intruding; image of her lying down, tubes attached to her arms –
“I’m okay. I’m okay now, daddy.”
I open my eyes and she’s looking at me – looking in my eyes with her beautiful brown ones. I want to ask what she means – how she knows what I was thinking – but she just smiles and leans her forehead against mine.
“You can put me down now, daddy. Mummy’s waiting for you.”
I kiss her nose gently – and grin as she giggles in that cute way she has. Looking over her head, I try to pierce the dark corridor behind her with my eyes. Her giggle floats up to me and wraps itself around my head – pretty much like a dust cloud – and then gets into my heart.
I go on one knee and pull out a box from the white nylon bag I had placed beside my leg before carrying her earlier. I watch her face as I open the box, grinning proudly as her expression goes from raised eyebrows – simple interest – to widened eyes and open mouth.
Chubby fingers crawl; hesitantly, much like a snail peeking out of its shell to see if the coast is now clear – and reach into the box for the white-gold bracelet gleaming against the deep-red velvet inlay. The fingers touch, prod – but do not attempt to move the bracelet.
And then they withdraw.
“Is that for mommy?” a hushed voice asks.
I nod, still grinning. “Think she’ll like it?”
“Think I’ll like what?”
I nearly knock my daughter senseless as my head swings – at the same time with hers – towards the source of the voice. We turn and freeze; looking very much like kids stealing meat from the pot in the middle of the night – and suddenly; the kitchen lights come on.
But I’m sure we froze for different reasons.
My daughter probably froze because we had been talking about a gift for her mother – something that was supposed to be a secret – at least till I give it to the owner.
I froze because – well; I still cannot get over how beautiful she is.
Her arms are behind her head as she walks forward, doing something to her hair, small movements that send ripples along the multicolored gown she’s wearing and sets my heart racing. The gown shimmers and ripples along her thighs; thighs I know are a shade lighter than her ready-to-drink Milo complexion.
Slowly, I close the box and rise as she comes to a stop in front of me, head bent, looking at my – our daughter who is giggling and trying to hide behind daddy’s legs – then she looks up into my eyes.
“Hello, dear. Think I’ll like what?”
My eyes drop to the still open box in my hand and hers follow like north and south poles of different magnets. Her face is very much the reflection of our daughter’s from minutes ago; from polite interest to surprise –
Her eyes dart back to my face, mouth hanging open like the cleavage area of a low-cut blouse. I clearly see her throat muscles work as she tries to swallow past something in her throat – I see her liquid eyes become even more fluid – water starts to overflow.
“Is that…is that…” she swallows and tries again. “Is that…for me?”
I don’t respond. I just push the box into her hands – hands that are suddenly softer than wet biscuits. I hold onto the box till her hands firm around it – and then I let go and step back.
She steps with me, throwing herself into my arms and wrapping hers around me. Her head nestles against my chest and I feel thirty feet tall. If she asks me to storm Borno all by myself to take on those guys – I wouldn’t hesitate.
God help me.
“I love you,” she whispers, strength in her voice putting the tears wetting my shirt to shame. She moves her head and kisses my jaw softly. “I love you, you hear? With everything I am and hope to be. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I answer, and clasp her to myself – as though I want to pull her through my chest and into my heart. She sighs peacefully and buries her nose in my chest, closing her eyes.
“Mummy? Daddy? It’s getting late o – shebi you’re still going?”
Our eyes open and we look at the grinning elf standing by our feet. My sweetheart – the senior – kneels and kisses my other sweetheart – the junior – on the forehead. “Go on inside baby,” the senior urges. “Go and meet grandma. We’ll be right back.”
Junior nods. “Love you daddy!” and runs inside, shuku flying this way and that. I lean to nuzzle senior’s neck – and at the same time whisper in her ear. “Grandma’s here?”
She nods. “Someone has to babysit na.” She changes the box into her left hand, holds my left in her right one and looks up at me with always-wet eyes. “Shall we?”
Terry Tha Rapman, one of my favorite rappers once said in an interview; when he was asked what piece of clothing he hated most: “Socks! Very annoying things! You only wear them twice – and then one foot disappears and you keep seeing one foot – and you can never tell whether the one you’re seeing is the one you lost or not!”
Some of us have exs like that. You know; that ex that has almost become your rebound person? Any and every time a relationship doesn’t work out you park yourself right back to them – and they always seem to be available?
She was that to me. Her. She.
Interestingly, she likes Hershey’s. Just saying.
Anyways – she called me that afternoon to say she had just landed at MM2 after a long and dusty flight from Abuja, she had a meeting with some new business owners her oga was courting – and that she would be free and mine for the evening.
Maybe; not in those words. Maybe she didn’t say it like that.
But that was what I heard. Convenient, shey?
Sha – that evening I arranged myself quite carefully and looked at myself in the mirror – a small perk I allow myself only twice a year; once before the first date of the year and after the first breakup of the year – and headed out. My destination was E-Centre Yaba, and the goal was to see a movie, grab a couple of drinks and see her to her hotel.
And go home immediately after. I swear, that was the plan.
But when I saw Kemi all my plans went out of the window, along with my common sense and eighteen-month-old celibacy oath. She looked like sex would look if it got up and walked out of the dictionary one lazy night and literally put on a woman’s form.
I was finished.
I tried o! Before you judge me, I swear I tried! The only thing I didn’t do was to take a cold shower – and if we had been at Ikeja CIty Mall instead of E-Center I would have run into Shoprite, bought a pack of Eva Water and a bucket, run into the rest room and doused myself – clothes and all.
Oh devil, why did you make me suggest Yaba?!
God – help me!
Kemi – Ms. Suicidal Tendencies herself sat down and ate pizza, looking at me from over her fish-eye glasses and smiling at my discomfort. “Are you okay?” she would ask at five-minute intervals, little finger of her right hand somehow always picking something from in between her teeth.
I sat there and stared, a drowning man.
“Can we go and watch the movie now?” I asked, hating the way my voice shook. She looked at the inside of her wrist, and then at me.
“Which movie is that?” she asked.
She yawned and covered her mouth. “Babe – I’m tired. Let’s go return those tickets.”
I was going to tell her how impossible that was – but I shut up and hurried so I could walk beside her instead of behind her – for obvious reasons.
Somehow she got the guy behind the desk to give me my money back, and then, leaning on my arm she led me out of the building and into a cab. “Lekki – Maple Cottage,” she told the driver.
I was barely settled in my seat when this wildcat grabbed me and started to eat my face – the exact same way she had been devouring pizza some minutes ago. Somehow her glasses were over her head and out of the way. I started to tremble – I started to vibrate like I had that Nokia 3310 in my pocket and it was ringing. I grabbed onto her arms and held on for dear life – and somewhere in the distance I could hear a sound – something that sounded like the wind howling at the top of a very high building.
Suddenly she pushed me away – and I became aware of two things; slobber all over my chin and chest; mine, I was sure – and the fact that we were standing still.
The cab wasn’t moving.
“Driver, what’s wrong?” she asked brusquely, impatiently pushing her glasses back on her nose. I looked around, afraid we were about to be victims of the kind of stuff we only heard about on the news and Twitter before now – but we were at a police checkpoint.
That reassured me slightly.
“Oga wetin happen?” I asked, my voice sounding like Super Mario was hiding somewhere in my throat. I cleared it away but the driver had heard me. Quietly, he opened his door and went out of the cab. “Na you I wan talk to,” he said to me.
“What’s the matter?” Kemi asked again. I untangled myself from her, arranged myself and got out of the cab. The driver was waiting some distance off.
“Wetin happen na?” I asked as I drew near him – suddenly afraid.
“Oga, I no dey disturb you o. Anything wey you like, you fit do inside my taxi; you dey hear me so? I jus’ wan say make you kiaful; shebi na hotel una dey go? Ehen na, wait make we reach di hotel – den you fit fire aunti anyhow!”
I was wondering whether to tell him to mind his business or to say thanks – when a gleam in his hand suddenly darted towards me. I sprang back – and then what he was holding became visible.
Automatically I reached for it, and as my hand closed around it he said, “And you dey fall my hand with that noise wey you dey make! Oga, you never kils woman before?! If na kilsing make you dey shout like dat – wetin you wan do if na d koko?”
I stood there, holding the condom in my hand, feeling like the only guy at the show who didn’t get the Basketmouth joke, driver’s loud uncultured laughter sticking taunting fingers in my ears and wagging saliva-dripping tongues in my face.
Oh wretched fool that I am…
Tap tap tap
Shiny red nails rang on the table, sending all sorts of signals into Chris’ left temple. Watching the woman sitting across him from under shaggy eyebrows, he muttered in distaste.
Women. Hell to live with or without.
He was – or rather, had been practicing the ‘without’ part for some time and he did like it, even though he longed for company of the other kind sometimes. The tap tap tap came again and he was reminded why he had decided; eleven months ago, to try the without part of the story.
Agnes. Hell in a skirt, hell on a man.
He looked up from his feet and met her eyes. There was a mocking smile on her face, a smile that said I know what you’re thinking. Sorry I can’t help you.
“I’d rather die,” he mumbled half-aloud.
“Chris? Is there a problem?”
He turned slightly in his chair to face the head of the department. Looking at her creased the middle of his forehead. Temi looked like she had been force-fed into a meat wringer sometime in her teenage years, and as a result she wore her clothes with as much aplomb as a clothes hanger. In them she looked like she could play hide and seek in an empty tin of sardines – no disrespect to the tin.
He liked her voice, however. She sounded like Omawunmi did whenever she was talking in between her songs. He could listen to her all –
He sighed. “You don’t have to yell, Temi. You’re scary enough looking like you look.”
Her jaw muscles clenched and his hand flew to his mouth as he converted the snort about to come out to a cough. Gently, muscles trembling, she put the marker she’d been writing on the board with on the table beside the MacBook she was sharing slides from and left the room, marching quickly and efficiently.
“What are you doing, pretty boy?”
He hated the way the fine hairs on the back of his neck stirred as though a soft wind was blowing through them. Arranging his face into a look of disinterest, he cocked his right eye in Agnes’ direction.
“The girl acts as though someone forgot a bee in her skull after her last lobotomy. If she keeps on with me I’ll probably have to help her remove it. I just can’t guarantee I’ll be as professional as a surgeon would be.”
“Ouch,” Agnes mouthed, red lips forming a pained ‘o’. “That’s a woman you’re talking about.”
Chris snorted. “Makes no difference to me. If she can work as rough as a man, she’s earned the right to play as rough as a man.”
He eyed Agnes skeptically. “Don’t tell me you’ve suddenly become an anti-feminist. You’re poisonous enough without adding that to your resume.”
Agnes chuckled, pink appendage darting out to lick dry lips. “I’m not anti anything darling. In fact, I’m pro everything except anything that’ll hurt Agnes. That’s the only thing I’m anti about.”
“Yeah – you love yourself and yourself alone. We all know that,” Chris blurted, hating the bitterness that weighed his voice down. “Look -forget about it okay?”
The office boy stuck his around the door Temi walked out through earlier. “Madam Temi say make you join am for office.”
Chris didn’t even twitch. “English, Joe.”
Joe cleared his throat. “Madam Temi says you should come and go and join her in her office.”
“Thank you, Joe. Tell her I’ll be right there.”
The office boy nodded and retraced his steps as Chris looked at Agnes with a question on his face.
She smiled. “The only way to know is to ask, bobo. So go ask.”
Chris stood up and buttoned his jacket, easing himself out from behind the table. “Here goes,” he whispered at Agnes.
She smiled and fluttered fingers in his direction. “Dont hurt her too much, dear.”
He nodded and bounced out.
I was hungry. So I stood up, walked out of the office and into the Chicken Republic directly opposite my office building.
I was at the counter about to order rice and beans when I saw this couple feeding each other fries.
Wouldn’t have bothered me – or I probably would have come to tell you that story, but something about the encounter made me write this story.
The man was my boss. The lady was my ex of eight months.
I jejely* walked back to the office and decided to starve.
I don’t feel like job hunting yet. Or what should I have done?
*jejely – informal slang for ‘gently’ or ‘softly’