Chioma got home very early, long before Kene, her husband did. She went straight to get dinner ready; they still had some leftover from the previous night, but Kene wouldn’t want to nibble on the day-old Jollof rice. She knew it wouldn’t be fair on him, at least, he deserved much more. Her husband worked long hours at Oxford hospital in Texas, as a gynecologist; he had to work extra hours in order to pay up the mortgage for the duplex they occupied, apart from other things, most especially, his wife’s regular medical check-ups. Chioma on the other hand was a teacher at a kindergarten school. Her little pay went a long way in taking care of things back home in Nigeria: schools fees, medical bills and house rents. Her family lived a life which could be described by many as ‘a little bit high above decent.’
Chioma quickly chopped some chicken and tossed them into the pot. Back at home, her favourite food was pepper soup, and she cooked it so well that her siblings nick-named named her, ‘Pepper and Soup.’ She became a good cook in life, owing to a childhood experience that taught her the ways of the kitchen. At primary six, she and her siblings woke up to the morning drum, only to find out that their mother had to travel to University of Nigeria, Nsukka – far away from home – in order to further her studies. The cooking pots and spoons, together with all the kitchen utensils were officially handed over to her. Her three younger brothers took over the house chores, while she took to setting the food on the table. It was like a practice which when her mother returned after her long stay away, she was highly impressed at the development. Life almost went back to normal if not for the sudden dismissal of their father from the Ministry of Aviation, without any pension or gratuity. Nobody knew why he was abruptly dismissed without any reason, up until she left for National Youth Service, and her father turned to the business of selling motor spare parts.
The sizzling effect of spiced chicken resonated around the kitchen with lots of sweet scents. She put all her energy into what was before her that she didn’t hear the front door open or close. Before she knew what was about to happen, a hand quickly swept up from nowhere and wrapped around her tiny waist. Her colleagues often teased her for not looking married. When she newly joined the school, most of her male colleagues tried as much as possible to hit on her, not minding the wedding band on her finger. The hand that held her waist leisurely swept her around to face him. An illuminating light exploded on her face, and it was as though the effect was infectious that it also affected the person who had her in his arms. Kene gave her his widest smile and planted a kiss on her forehead; he held on to her tightly, as though he wanted to hear her heartbeat. She reciprocated by adding pepper and salt to the hug. They looked like two people who hadn’t seen each other for a very long time, not minding that they both woke up under the same sheet that very morning.
Chioma patiently waited for some seconds, in order to go back to her soup, but Kene held on tightly. Chioma was worried that he might fall asleep on her shoulders; she tried to ease away a bit, but he swept his strong arms up and down her bony back. His work barely gave him time for his family, that it worried her so much about having kids. He would be literally absent in their lives if he carried on the way he did, had it been they had any kids. Kene raised his head, brought his lips a little bit closer to hers, but she tilted her head backwards.
“I need to get dinner ready. Are you not hungry?”
He looked into her eyes, as though he chewed over her reaction in his mind before he answered.
“I had to take some time off from work today. I needed to see you.”
She stirred the soup while turning to pay attention at what he was saying. She was surprised at his answer. It was unusual; he has never said something else while trying to answer a question. Kene was one guy who answered as directly as possible; it was the first time she noticed him not being direct, in their one year of dating, before they got married. In fact, she had never met a man who would look a woman in the eye for the first time and tell her that he found her intelligent and attractive, and the next minute, he was proposing at the venue of a friend’s wedding, where they met the first time. Kene knew what he wanted and went for it, all the time.
Chuba, a friend from college, invited her for his sister’s wedding in Lagos. Chioma at that point was doing her one year National Youth Service as an Executive Assistant to their overall boss at AIICO, Lagos. She knew no one in Lagos, but was lucky to run into Chuba and his girlfriend during one of their Community Development Service days. Chuba became her tour guide around Lagos. He made her feel at home, took her to his sister’s who invited her to her wedding.
At the wedding, Chioma knew someone had their eyes on her back and on each move she made, but she was too shy to find out whom. Obviously, every guy had his eyes on every girl, but it was difficult to fish out the eyes that bore the familiar hole in her back which made her feel too uncomfortable. When the Master of Ceremony’s announcement opened up the dance floor, someone walked straight and stood right in front of her. At that point, she felt like those actresses in the movies who got hit by random handsome men. She literally froze, from head to toe. Her neck turned stiff that she could not raise her head to check who was standing in her way. The next thing she heard was someone shouting at the top of their voice into her ears; his voice felt like the rush of hot wind:
“Hi! I am Kene! I would love to dance with you!”
He brought out his right hand to help her to her feet. Like a zombie, she put her hand into his, and they joined the rest to dig it out on the dance floor. Kene was really a good dancer, but after their wedding, he rarely danced at occasions. Chioma felt that the stress at work might have taken away his flair for the dance floor.
Their eyes met, and Kene turned his back and started washing his hands; something he always did right, the moment he walked through the front door. She had gotten accustomed to his safety procedures at home: having drugs and syringes pour out of their kitchen cabinet, his hospital coats, the strong smell of drugs all around the house, and lined up in their wardrobe. She had gotten used to his smell: the smell of hospital mixed with so many things that she couldn’t lay her hands on. Chioma knew he must have moved the heavens before he could come home.
“I am really glad you made it early, today.”
Kene dried up his hands, came over and gave Chioma a long indulging kiss on the lips. He looked deep into her eyes, smiled and went to take his bath.
Chioma placed the last plate on the table when Kene came down for dinner. Before he came to the table, he went straight to pour himself something from the fridge. The smell of strong spirit filled the air; he never did that unless something serious happened. She wanted to feel irritated, but held herself. She had learnt to be patient with Kene, so far as he would share whatever it was that ate him up from inside. She could remember the last time she smelled the scent of spirit under his breath: It was on their fifth wedding anniversary. They had hosted friends at home; he drank so much and got too drunk, and that night, he made love to her like a wild wolf. That night, while he rolled away from on top of her, he called her another name. She had suspected his infidelity right after their third wedding anniversary, but she didn’t know that it continued, even after two years of marriage. That night left their five years dangling on the tail end of a rocking cliff. He apologised, but she wanted something more than apology: she wanted a life out of everything. That was when she took up the job, and went back to school to study, just like her mother did, when she caught their father with the neighbour’s daughter. She found out about everything when she was a bit older. One day, her mother called her and told her that life was much more than the eyes could bear to see. Her idle mind played tricks on her, but she decided to move on as much as possible after she stumbled upon Kene’s betrayal.
The night called up its own: the owl, night birds, rodents, and the big trucks that occasionally drove by, a far distance away. The moon looked full, with the effects that made it seem as though one splashed some milk all over it. Chioma looked out through her own side of the bed. She loved the effect of light in the room each night the moon came out to play; the rays of light indulged a part of their room in its activities; it made that part look like a scene from Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen. It reminded her of her days in school as a literature student. She wondered what had happened: she was fast losing her taste for those novels she formerly craved for, like an old man who suddenly woke up bald. Chioma felt as sleepless as a mouse. She turned and met Kene huddled on one side, sleeping his eyes out. She quietly got up and made her way to the study.
The light went on immediately she hit the switch on the wall. From the door, she took a good look around the room, which once used to be her second place of abode, for five years. It looked cleaned, but unused. She could smell the absence of her perfume and her presence, after a long while. Her eyes traveled from the wide couch, to the large table and chair, to the computer, which she used to send so many correspondences when she worked from home as a blogger, and then, the last of them all, her book shelve. She remembered how her brothers searched all over the markets in Enugu, with a list of novels by Nigerian authors each time Kene came around; that was some years before he betrayed her. She would fill them in the book shelve, and before she knew it, she would murder the books, just like her favourite literature lecturer, Ifeyinwa Ogbazi would tell them each time she came to class. She missed everything: home, her family, the smell of rainy and dry season, the sweet taste of boiled corn and ripe pear, soaked in hot water. She could not even remember what a groundnut or ripe mango fruit tasted like.
She left the door and went straight to the book shelve; she opened it and withdrew Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine. She had read it over and over, that she had almost memorised the lines. She opened the first page, but something struck her mind: the image of Kene telling her of the new job he got in California and the need for them to move, once again. These sudden moves had made it very difficult for her to have a life: it was as though the minute she tried to plant herself in a place, get a life, and make friends, something big comes up that she would be the one to sacrifice or suffer. She would have to leave behind everything she had tried so much to build: their relationship, her friends, her commitments and her work. It was as though she left behind a part of her each time they had to relocate, and at that moment she would leave a chunk of herself. Chioma knew she had barely a month to get everything set for California.
The new house was bigger and quieter than what they used to have in Texas. Everything looked and felt big, except their family of two. They got a moving agency to haul their stuffs down to California, and flew themselves to the city. It took months to get settled in; Kene was busy with the paper works at the hospital while Chioma took to inspecting the fixtures in the house. Kind neighbours came in to introduce themselves; some helped to show her around and she made new friends too. Sooner than later, they went back to the routine of Kene leaving in the morning, and she buried in her studies till dusk. Everything seemed to have gone back to normal except her life. She intended to wait for some months before she had her resume all over the place; at least, California was a big city to get a good job.
Chioma busily studied on the computer for an upcoming aptitude test when her phone rang. She didn’t intend to take it, but when she saw who it was, she did.
Her mum did call all the time, but not early in the morning, and with the help of technology, she could see her mum’s face who was a thousand miles away from her. Her mum smiled and it was as though the wrinkles that once covered her face disappeared. Chioma was surprised, because her mum busily smiled while looking her over. She knew that her mum busily inspected to know if she was pregnant, but such miracles were still far away from her. Her mother had learnt to look more than ask, because asking would do nothing but cause Chioma so much pain. When the old woman was satisfied, she asked:
“Kedukwanu! How is everything?”
“Anyi nnokwa ya. Good.”
Her mother smiled again; Chioma knew it was not ordinary, and she wondered what might have happened that could make her mother’s wrinkles hibernate for such a long period of time. Also, her mother was not usually a fan of video call; she called it ‘too much technology which could spoil the spice of life.’ She could not wait for her mother to throw up the gist; it was obviously on the tip of her lips.
“Linus is getting married.”
Linus was her youngest brother, and literally her favourite.
Her mum didn’t allow her to get over excited before she added:
“He personally wants you to be there. Can you make it?”
It was a very hard question to answer; in fact, her tongue felt heavy in her mouth. She could not say ‘no’ to her baby brother. But they just moved, and hadn’t settled in really well; they were hoping to get everything running in no time. Things were not yet back to normal, and getting a flight ticket back home could go a long way if she sends it to her brother. Moreover, she knew that Kene was not really invited; her people lost interest in him some years back when she told them of his infidelity. She was one person who loves keeping things to herself, just like her mother, but she had to let it out because she felt her world came crashing down on her. That was a period she realised that family was everything: her parents made it a point of duty to call her, and her brother who newly moved to Canada with his family, came visiting, although she knew it cost him so much. Everyone felt her pain, and many wished it hadn’t come her way, just like their dad’s cheating fell on her shoulders, right after the minute their mother left for Nsukka.
Her mother had been patient for her response; she knew how to wait on things, it was as though she was born with patience. Her mother once told her that it requires a whole lot of patience if a woman decides to stay married, especially with someone like her father. She didn’t realise it until the baton was unconditionally passed to her. Chioma took a deep depressed breath; she said:
“Mama, give me some time to think about it. You know we just moved, and it costs a whole lot to pay for a house over here. Meanwhile, could you have him send his account number to me?”
She needn’t tell her mother what she intended to do. Both had a good understanding with whatever they did. Her mother gave out a loud chuckle. It was a sign that her message was clear. Chioma knew her mother so well, like she could read the marks on the palm of her hands: she knew that her dear mother would never re-visit the topic, any longer. In order not to show her unhappiness, they went on discussing about so many things, but she never asked about her husband, Kene, she never did. Where she came from, there were certain things old parents use to mark a responsible man, and Kene to her mother, had obviously crossed a line. Everyone seemed to have forgiven him, including his family, but they have all refused to forget. Chioma found out that most of her neighbours’ kids had all settled with kids in their husband’s place, and most of the young boys she knew were all grown, married or worked in one company or the other. The mention of kids made her ears tingle; it was as though someone used a pin to poke her sides. Her mother never asked her, but she usually chipped it into their numerous conversations. Chioma didn’t know if those conversations were deliberate or not, but they left hot boiling coals beneath her feet.
Soon enough, the conversation ended and she went back to the computer. Unfortunately, she found out that she had lost interest; it was as though the conversation she had with her mother swung round her head: they played back like a voice over a tape-recorder. Chioma looked at the wall clock, it was nearly six and Kene would soon be home. She got up and made her way to the kitchen. On the back of her mind, the thought of having children rang like an alarm bell.
Chioma finished up at the grocery store very early in the morning and decided to head out to the gym. She had gotten used to going around all alone. Kene made time available to take her out on one or two dates, but afterwards, she let him be with his numerous calls. While on her way home, she stopped for the red light. It was at that moment that she noticed a particular brown Mercedes. She remembered it from the store. Before she could guess further, the green came on and she headed home. When she lighted the gas, she forgot all about what took place earlier and went on with her food.
The sleepless nights became consistent. Chioma didn’t want to let her husband know, because she knew the first thing he would do: take her to see a doctor, himself. She hid it from him as much as possible. It was not too difficult to hide something from Kene; he rarely notices anything. It was difficult to get him worried over things that worried other people.
Chioma was on the last page of a novel when Kene walked in on her. He looked at her, and his face folded into a frown.
“What have you been up to? I got up to take some water, but you weren’t there.”
Chioma was surprised he was up, because he never got up from the bed once his head hits the pillow. Kene was a deep sleeper, and he couldn’t help it. That was why he could afford to work long hours and sleep for a long while without painkillers. Chioma smiled. He came closer, and gave her a hug. His heartbeat churned her inside. He looked straight into her eyes; his image became a reflection in his eyes.
“Why have you been awake?”
It was at that point that she remembered what transpired the other day. She had meant to tell him, but she kept on forgetting. Although she felt it could be a coincident and it wasn’t so important, but it was something worth telling.
“The other day, I saw a Mercedes.”
Kene frowned all the more. It was as though some sleep drifted away from his eyes, and they were replaced by light bulbs. Chioma caught his reactions and felt sorry, because it seemed she got all worked up for no good reason, and then, she had to involve him. She blinked so many times at once, and nodded her head, and said:
“Do you know what? Just forget about it. I don’t think... I am not sure I saw anything. You know the moving, and all that must have gotten to me. It was nothing. I am sure.”
She knew her husband closely watched her, but he did a good work of hiding it. He drew her closer and planted a kiss on her forehead, it felt like a prayer, because his cold lips lingered, and she imagined herself on the day of her baptism in church: how the priest poured cold water on her head, the rush made her feel some worth relaxed, and far away from all her problems. Kene’s lips left her forehead, and trailed down the length of her neck: it had been long he made love to her last, after they moved, although they didn’t forget the occasional goodbye and goodnight kisses. He busily went on pulling at her cotton nightgown, but she grabbed his hands, looked into his eyes, and said:
“I need to get some sleep.”
Her words hit him like a cannon ball. She quietly slipped away from his grasps and made her way back to their room.
Chioma made her way into the drive way; she didn’t pay much attention to the car that parked on the other side of the street. It was difficult to notice things, because she got employed at the community social centre. She locked the door, and went straight into the house: the things in her mind made her giggle at their much thought. Kene’s boss was coming over for dinner that night with his wife. His boss was from Jamaica, but he was out to taste all Nigerian cuisines, that night. Before Chioma got home, she went straight to shop at the African market; it was a little bit out of town. She selected the best parts of meat which she could lay her hands on. She planned to prepare her favourite pepper soup, draw soup, jollof rice, chicken and fried plantain. She had earlier called her mother over the phone with some gist.
She left everything she bought on top of the kitchen cabinet, ran upstairs, and hit the shower. Afterwards, she wrapped herself in a kimono and made her way through the stairs. Something jingled behind her, and she turned to meet a woman. She had never met her from anywhere. Chioma wondered how she got the keys to the house, and how she found her way into the house. As though the woman read her mind; she smiled and said:
“I know you are wondering how I got these.”
She jingled the keys, once more to her view. The woman laughed hysterically, when she realised what she had done. She knew Chioma recognised her husband’s keys in another woman’s possession. Her mind went to a thousand places, in seconds. The tall blonde stood at the top of the staircase, while Chioma looked up at her. The lady wore tight jeans under a white blouse that showed off the lines of her breasts. It was too obvious that she was breastfeeding or just stopped. Chioma feared the obvious. The woman was busy looking around the house with so much interest. At the end, she smacked her lips and said:
“So, this is where he came to hide you?”
“Who are you?”
The lady looked at Chioma as though she was crazy, and said:
“You must really be as dumb as he says. Isn’t it obvious?”
‘What do you mean?”
“Hah! Have you ever asked yourself some questions? Why the constant move? Why the late nights? How come he could not afford to pay up the mortgage for the shit-hole back in Texas?”
Chioma opened her mouth to talk, but surprisingly, it was either dry or she had ran out of what to say. When she saw that Chioma had no idea of everything she had said, she continued:
“At least, I know you can’t give him more kids!”
It was as though she hit something really hard inside Chioma; she rushed up to her and grabbed her shoulders. Both women struggled while on the staircase, but the other lady had more grip, before anything, she shouted:
“I am the last thing you will see!”
With her last words, she pushed so hard that Chioma lost her balance, and before she knew it, she was rolling so hard on the staircase towards a dark descent.
The view from the windows calmed her nerves, but she could not wait to leave. Being around sick people for so long, she felt sicker than she already felt. She remembered the last time she visited the hospital; the night they had an accident together. Kene drove that night; they drove from a friend’s party. She didn’t actually know how it happened, but the doctor’s report proved that she couldn’t have any kids. It was as though she had always been on the receiving end, and then the fall.
Her husband’s mistress had been arrested, but she thought of what would be their kid’s fate. Kene hadn’t come to visit; her mother wouldn’t allow him come any close to her. She felt as though she had lived her whole life for nothing.
A knock on the door interrupted her deep thoughts. Her mother came in with the doctor, who smiled from cheek to cheek. Chioma leaned on a walking stick, but when the doctor walked towards her, she left the window and made her way to the bed. Her mother was the first to talk:
Immediately she heard the news, she gathered all her savings to come and be with her only daughter. Chioma gave a salt smile, although she was in too much pain. The doctor drew a seat closer, opened her file before her, and said:
“Well, it is high time we sent you home. Don’t you think so?”
She looked at the doctor, and then turned to her mother, and asked:
“Where is home?”
Her mother ran to her side, gathered Chioma into her hands, and she rested her head on her mother’s shoulders. She wept bitterly, and her tears felt like ice cold water on a winter night...
Let's discuss this story in the comments below
Wow beautiful, courage dear
Kene is damn wicked! Anyway, interesting story
Nice story, but it ended abrubtly.